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Two veterans 'couldn't just sit,' started a food business in Wabasha

Post-Bulletin - 2/20/2024

Feb. 20—WABASHA — Mississippi River Flavor Company is expecting to open its first retail location in downtown Wabasha this spring.

Mississippi River Flavor Company is a local, veteran-owned business that specializes in spice blends, marinades, meat rubs and more. The business was started by Erica Peck and Jaden Peck right after the pandemic hit. Both of them had recently lost their jobs and were looking for something to do.

"As veterans, we couldn't just sit and wait for life to happen," said Erica Peck. "My husband was like, 'Well, let's start a business.'"

At the time it seemed like a low risk and Erica and Jaden already had their idea in mind. They had been making their own spice blends for themselves and gifting them to friends and family.

"We've been in business since 2020," Erica said. "We were both in the military and after we got out, we would always mix our own blends. Everything we've seen in the store is just riddled with anti-caking agents and unnecessary ingredients and just full of junk. So we've just always mixed our own."

Mississippi River Flavor Company started out small, with booths at farmers' markets and craft shows. They still go to around two vendor shows a month, but might have to cut down once their store location opens.

"April of 2020, we just kind of started a Facebook page and told people in the local area, like Lake City, Wabasha, Red Wing area, if you guys want free samples, send us your address," Erica said. "We ended up sending out over 200 free samples of the four spices that we always made ourselves. We got a lot of feedback and got some good reviews back from that. So in June of that year, we had 12 options ready for the local farmers' market and it just went crazy and kept going from there."

Now the Pecks are ready to take their business to the next level with a storefront in downtown Wabasha. They are hoping to be open in April, but they are waiting for permits and licensing before they can begin to make their location their own.

"I think it's been good and we've kind of just grown organically, which is nice," Erica said. "We never had to take out big business loans or anything like that. So it's like one of those things where if we kind of failed and went under, it would suck but it wouldn't be completely devastating for life."

The Pecks have seen their fair share of hardships. They battled homelessness and poverty after serving in the military and now use profits from their company to give back to their community and veteran organizations. Helping others is very important to them and their business model.

"We're like, life cannot be this hard for veterans," Erica said. "When you commit time, 15 years or even a little bit of time of your life to just serve your country, it should not be this hard to live once that service is over. So we decided that like, if we ever got to a point where we could help someone else out, we would. It's just been kind of ingrained in our company that we would give back."

Fortunately, the Pecks have seen some success in their business. Their most popular blend sellers have been Vermont Maple Bacon, Fully Loaded Burger, Butchers Blend, and Savory Steak and Chop. They have also made a few seasonal items like dessert mixes in the summer that have been very popular.

"We have probably about 50 blends total that we just kind of rotate in and out seasonally," Erica said. "We have cheesecake mixes that we usually only bring out during the summer time that people really like and a bloody Mary mix that people like. My husband is kind of the brains of it all and will experiment and come up with all these different blends."

In addition to the fun flavors, Erica likes to get creative with the titles of their products. She really likes wordplay and has a lot of fun coming up with names for everything.

"Last summer, we did a '90s box," she said. "We had like Jurassic Pork and Spice Spice Baby and Saved by the Bell Pepper. Our box made its way to California to Mark Paul Gosselaar, who played Zack Morris on Saved by the Bell. He sent us a picture of himself holding our Saved by the Bell Pepper. So that was super cool."

In addition to the widespread product distribution throughout the United States, the Pecks have also won awards that have helped contribute to their success.

"In 2022, we won the Midwest Veteran's Entrepreneurs of the Year for the whole Midwest, five competing states," Erica said. "So 70 companies, we won first place and $25,000. So that was pretty awesome."


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