Made in Fort Worth: Pendery’s Spices and A Recipe for Success
The oldest family-owned business in Texas is located in (arguably) the best city in the state. Pendery’s World of Chilis & Spices has been sourcing, packaging, and distributing the finest spices in the world — from cilantro powder to Beadie’s Bloody Mary Mix to Dad’s Oven Smoked Rub – for almost two centuries. But this Fort Worth fixture, recently declared a Texas Treasure by the Texas State Legislature, is best known for its chili blends. After all, the company invented chili powder, a claim that’s as firmly staked in the ground as the Pendery family’s Fort Worth heritage. That rich heritage began the day DeWitt Clinton Pendery rolled into Cowtown from Cincinnati on a horse-drawn stagecoach in 1870. Today, the 175-year-old company has a retail store located in Near Southside and an ecommerce site that is patronized by serious chefs and aspiring cooks around the globe.
Madeworthy magazine talked with fifth-generation owner and general manager Clint Haggerty about family, business, and his spice for life.
Madeworthy (MW): What are the health benefits of chilis?
Clint Haggerty (CH): It’s all about a well-balanced diet and eating right. There’s the low-carb diet, which I like. People have a vegetarian diet, too. But no matter which diet you pick, spices can be a big component of that. It improves the flavor of whatever you’re eating. Some of the earliest trading commodities ever were salt and pepper. Adding flavor to food is one of the first trades that ever existed.
MW: What’s your “why?”
CH: I’m the fifth generation. It’s almost kind of a birth right; it’s a family legacy… We hope to have something to pass on to future family members. We appreciate and depend on our customers to provide quality goods and service they expect from us.
MW: What are some challenges you’ve had to overcome as a business?
CH: You have to continually reinvent yourself. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The internet came out, and now we have to compete against giants like Amazon. DeWitt Clinton Pendery had a [printed] circular he sent to the stagecoach lines. It’s different but the same. We were around when they invented electricity. [We] used to have these big chili chopping machines. That was all brand new; it had been operated manually. There was always something worse before — and there was always a family member who overcame the challenge. That gives me the confidence to overcome the challenges of today and persevere.
MW: What’s your role in the local restaurant community?
CH: We do a lot of wholesale for local restaurants and sell to Ben E. Keith. Restaurants are depending on us to do our part during the COVID-19 crisis. We were around for the Civil War and the Spanish flu. If a family can survive through all that, we will definitely pick ourselves up now, too.
MW: What should families cook now?
CH: Start off with what your family enjoys eating. The whole thing about cooking is the social interaction. That’s what we’re missing right now. When families get together, they eat. What’s your comfort food? What do you and your family enjoy? It doesn’t matter if your cooking skills aren’t the best… Right now, people have a lot more time on their hands than they normally do. Maybe try a family tamale recipe? Or maybe this is a great time to try an old recipe that you’ve always wanted to cook.
MW: What’s your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
CH: Pursue what you have a passion for. We’ve been around so long it gives us perspective. Nothing is easy, and success doesn’t usually come quickly. It’s day-to-day diligence and attention to detail, plus flat-out hard work. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
MW: What’s it like working with family?
CH: On the plus side, you have the commitment of the family. There are bonds much greater than normal business relationships. At the same time, if you want to have a parting of ways, it adds greater stress. Generational ownership transfer can be hard. It really depends on the individual family dynamic. It can be as strong or weak as the individual family members involved. But as long as you have an underlying respect for each other, a family business has a certain cohesion. It drives you in dire times to put in the extra effort.