My name is Sean Bell and I created Bell's Famous Chili.
Me and Keisha (Wife/Partner)
In 2006 my wife and I were at M&T Bank Stadium football game. It was a late-fall / early-winter game and we were
freezing. At the time, the only thing we could get to warm ourselves up was a cup of hot chocolate. We started talking
about how the stadium really needed to serve chili during cold games and how we should write a letter or something to
request chili at the stadium.
Well, it wasn't long before we started talking about how we should try to sell chili at the stadium. The only problems were
we didn't own a business, neither of us had ever been in the food business, and we had no idea where to start. The
only thing we did have was this chili I often made for company functions and at home. People always told me it tasted
good. So, with some family encouragement, I figured it wouldn't hurt to give it a go and see if we couldn't get a contract.
I took a food management course, set up Bell Family Foods, LLC, and started to work on finalizing my recipe so we
could put our very best foot forward if we caught a break.
After what felt like a million phone calls, follow-up calls, and emails, one tasting, and my first business proposal, we
finally got our big break and landed a sub-contract with Aramark at the stadium.
Photo Link - We are mentioned in the Food and Drink paragraph of photo linked page!
My plan all along was to hire a contract-manufacturer to make my chili because I thought we would sell a lot and I had
never cooked multiple gallons before. It was a smart idea but it turned out to be easier said than done.
With the season fast approaching we couldn't get anything lined up in time so I decided to cook it myself.
That was a lot of hard work and long hours!!!
I have to give a big THANK YOU to the ladies at Healthy Culinary Connections in Trappe, MD for allowing me to cook in
their kitchen at a reasonable rate that I could afford.
After a few burns, many lessons learned, and about 20 ruined gallons of chili, I came up with a good system and we
were in business! We made our debut on August 13, 2007
(L to R) Keisha, Me, Brandon, and Terry at our 1st event!
With the help of friends and family we had a successful '07 season and were invited to return for the '08 season.
We would especially like to thank Brandon, Mark, Terry, Tina, Jerome and his friend, and most of all my mother for
watching the kids on game days.
Over the off season we were able to find a natural foods contract-manufacturer. They were able to successfully
reproduce our chili without compromising taste or quality. This development allowed us to submit a proposal to supply
the entire stadium with chili. We came to an agreement with the stadium and we ended up with 15 concession stands for
the '08 season.
We retired our booth before the start of the '08 season so that we could focus on the concession stands and try some
direct vending. We had a good year in '08 and got a lot of good feedback that we used in the off season to make
improvements to our packaging and our chili.
We had another big year in '09. We had strong growth at the stadium and got picked up by Giant supermarkets for sale
around the Mid-Atlantic. Our surprise dive into the retail market was an unexpected twist of fate that we neither planned
for nor pursued. We went to Giant in the hopes of getting into the hot bar. They really liked our chili so they offered us
a retail slot in the deli. Our retail sales were up and down in '09 but most of that was due to our lack of a broker and not
knowing the retail food business. The highlight of our retail debut however was not our overall sales, but how well we
did at tastings. The sales at our tastings were phenomenal and we believe this made our friends at Giant believers and
committed to the idea of our retail product.
We had another big year in '10. We made some new friends, grew at the stadium, picked up some more Giant
supermarkets and got into Howard University! We also improved our packaging and product consistency.
So far 2011 has kept up the pace! We have been added to the hot soup programs of ACME markets (Philadelphia
metro, NJ, DE) and Jewel-Osco (Chicago metro). We are thankful to SuperValu for the great opportunity and excited for
this upcoming soup season. To be continued...