June 12, 2012 9:58:42 AM
Reggie Kelly likes to cook.
Now, the longtime NFL player and former Mississippi State University standout is sharing some of his secrets in the kitchen.
Area fans will get a chance to mingle with Kelly and to learn some of those secrets this weekend when the Aberdeen native makes four area appearances to promote his Kyvan line of food products.
"When I played in Cincinnati, the folks up there always said you folks in the South really know how to do food right," Kelly said. "I think it is a gift. The type of food my wife (Sheila) and I prepare are the same types of meals you used to get at grandmother's every weekend.
"That is how we big boys in Mississippi grow up, learning how to prepare and eat the best food in the world."
Like most NFL standouts, Kelly knew a time would come to prepare for life after football. Early in his professional career, Kelly would spend time in the offseason organizing football camps for area youngsters in Aberdeen. Several teammates and other players from the NFL would join Kelly at the camps.
"We would have a huge feed at the end of the camps," Kelly said. "The other players and coaches did not know how we made food that was that good. They would rave for weeks about how good the Southern food was. From that, I got the idea that my wife and I could pursue this as a business.
"We wanted to give folks from all over the United States a chance to prepare the same type of meals."
With that idea, a business was born. In 2005, the legal process began as Kelly came up with the Kyvan line of products. The name is a combination of the name of Kelly's two kids (Ky-la and Ka-van).
"We really did it right," Kelly said. "You can't rush something if you want to do it right. It was a very slow process to get things going. Now that we are making head way, we want to do even more. This is an exciting time."
Six years after the first business plans were put in place, the Kyvan line of salsa hit the shelves. Available in hot and mild flavors, Kelly boasts about the uniqueness of his salsa. Made with several flavors, including apple and honey, the salsa is for "way more than chips."
"It is a very unique blend," Kelly said. "There is nothing I wouldn't do with my salsa. I have marinated steaks with it. I have used it with barbecued chicken. It is exceptionally sweet and gives whatever food the right kick."
The salsa made its debut last year in two Columbus-area Sunflower locations. While several other grocery chains in Northeast Mississippi followed, the big breakthrough came when his product hit the shelves at Walmart.
"We worked our way into Walmart stores in Kentucky, Georgia, and South Carolina," Kelly said. "That is when we knew we were on to something. It is very difficult to get that initial backing of Walmart. Once you work your way through those hurdles, you have confidence in your product.
"That is what makes this weekend so special. We will finally be adding some Mississippi Walmart locations for the first time."
The Kyvan salsa products will hit the shelves at Walmart locations in Amory, Columbus, Starkville, and West Point this weekend. Each location will hold a celebration with Kelly, and he will sign autographs and pose for pictures.
"We really encourage the fans to come out and visit," Kelly said. "You will like the salsa. It is a different product than you have tried before. We are looking forward to a good time and getting this thing started in the right way this weekend."
Kelly played four seasons with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons and eight seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals before returning to Atlanta last season. A second-round draft pick of the Falcons in 1999, Kelly has 149 career starts, 195 career catches and five career touchdowns as a tight end. With the NFL career quickly headed to the rearview mirror, look for the food business to grow.
"We are just getting started," Kelly said. "I like to experiment in the kitchen, and I think we are on to some good things. We are working on a barbecue sauce, a chicken seasoning, a steak seasoning, and a barbecue rub. Each will be unique. If you really doing something special with your food, I think you will enjoy some of the things that we are working on."
Always very active in community service projects, Kelly has spent a great deal of offseason time helping at Aberdeen High School and MSU. The ability to touch and to connect with young people has been a well-used gift, which he plans to utilize even more in the future. The ability to overcome obstacles and to reach your full potential is the underlying theme of Kelly's biography "Prepared" by Barton Green.
The ability to find success on the football field has helped with the daunting task of being able to market a new line of products nationwide. The process has become easier with additional help, as well as early success at Walmart locations. As the company continues to grow, Kelly feels the best is yet to come.
"I really like food, have always been a big fan of it," Kelly said. "This is my chance to really do something special. Football has always been a very big part of my life. However, I am excited about what lies ahead. This is a chance for people everywhere to taste what goes on every Sunday morning in the Deep South."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter