Katherine J. Lee Anderson: Co-founder of Andy's Seasonings
Katherine Anderson had no intention of running the business that family and friends had prodded her and her husband into starting in 1981. But when her husband died suddenly in 1996, she had to make a quick decision. She immediately decided to take over Andy's Seasonings, the business that began with barbecue sauce she and her husband concocted and cooked up in batches on her kitchen stove.
"I hadn't planned on running the company," Mrs. Anderson said in 1998. "It was something that just got thrust on me, (but) I never had an idea of selling it."
It was a multi-million dollar business, but she discovered back then that it was flirting with bankruptcy. Undaunted, Mrs. Anderson set about methodically making her business solvent. She not only settled the debt in short order, in a matter of a few years she had expanded the facility and doubled earnings.
Mrs. Anderson died Mon. (Nov. 21, 2011), at Christian Hospital Northeast of gastric cancer. Her son, the Rev. Larry W. Lee, said she had been diagnosed about a year ago.
Mrs. Anderson lived in Florissant, where she moved about 10 years ago after having lived in North St. Louis most of her adult life. She was 79.
The Reluctant Businesswoman
When Reuben "Big Andy" Anderson died at age 55, Katherine Anderson took the helm of the business she'd helped to start, but in which she had not been actively involved for seven years. She had stepped away from the family business in 1989 to devote more time to caring for her ailing father. Meanwhile, she worked a full-time job at the St. Louis City Board of Election Commissioners.
Upon her unanticipated return to the business, she quickly discovered that it was mired in debt. The company owed the Small Business Administration a half million dollars and the bank $2 million, $350,000 of which was overdue. Mrs. Anderson recalled that bank knocked incessantly at her door because, she said, there was no confidence that she could make good on the debt.
"Men just don't think we (women) have it," Mrs. Anderson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1998. She reportedly said it with a smile.
"I don't know anyone who had the confidence she could do it," said Lee. "But her life was tied up in the business and she wanted to prove that she could do what everyone said she couldn't."
She took a leave from her job at the Election Board to concentrate on saving her business. She began searching for ways to save money and increase sales. She also sought professional help, enrolling in an intensive 11-week program for business owners at Saint Louis University.
One of her classmates was Jan Scott, publisher of the Women's Yellow Pages. She had no doubt that Mrs. Anderson could do what was needed.
"Her demeanor was misleading," Scott said. "Her quiet voice did not reflect her true personality; she was a really strong, dynamic woman."
Mrs. Anderson, an avowed feminist, believed in women.
"She acknowledged that (women) are good, able and capable, that we can do whatever is needed," Scott said. She completed the course and moved to the next steps of her turnaround plan, which included hiring a consultant to help with Andy's finances and a manager to run the plant.
Within six months, she had paid off Andy's creditors and was beginning to see a pick-up in sales. By mid-1997, Mrs. Anderson had decided that she would run her business full-time. She made her leave permanent, retiring after more than 30 years in St. Louis city government.
"My CPA told me he had never seen a turnaround so fast," Anderson told the Post, noting that her banker didn't believe he was seeing the right set of books.
A lot of good cooks are told they should sell their special dishes. Few do; the Andersons did.
When the couple served barbeque to visitors, someone would invariably inquire about the sauce.
Mrs. Anderson would credit her husband for the recipe, but in the telling and retelling about the birth of the company, she would say, "The sauce started on my kitchen stove."
Before deciding to attempt to sell the barbecue sauce on the word of close friends and family, the Andersons enlisted a test market: their co-workers. The sauce received unanimous approval and Andy's Seasonings was launched.
In 1982, one year after its incorporation, the company moved out of the Andersons' basement to a plant on Washington. Their first customer was a small fish market on Goodfellow in North St. Louis that catered to African-Americans. They were soon selling in grocery stores, despite stiff competition for shelf space from the likes of Kraft Foods and Heinz. Kroger was the first major grocery chain to carry the sauce, but it was followed in short order by Schnucks, National and Dierbergs.
Andy's quickly expanded the product line to include seasoned salt and breadings for fish and chicken. Then, it went really big, garnering a contract to make breadings for McDonald's Chicken McNuggets. Andy's stopped making its signature sauce in 1990 to devote all of its resources to its dry products.
During the early years, as they were staking out markets and expanding rapidly, Mrs. Anderson was corporate secretary and director of the company. She did all of the clerical and payroll work after she got home from her full-time job.
By the time she left day-to-day management in 1988, Andy's had grown into one of the area's most successful black-owned businesses with sales of nearly a million dollars annually. It was the year the company moved to its current location at 2829 Chouteau into a $2.2 million facility.
Under Mrs. Anderson's leadership, the company experienced tremendous growth.
Andy's now has customers in all 50 states, including Schnucks, Dierbergs, Walmart, Straub's, Ralph's, Food 4 Less, Shop 'n Save, Sav-A-Lot and Piggly Wiggly. McDonalds remains the single largest customer.
By 2005, Andy's gross revenue had quadrupled to $8 million and its plant had doubled in size to 28,500 square feet to accommodate the growth. Mayor Francis G. Slay was on hand for the ribbon-cutting.
"I was there when she did her expansion," Slay said, "because to have such a business here, a business that's known all over, adds to the prestige of the city.
"Katherine Anderson was a very impressive lady," Slay added. "She was strong and very committed to her family, her business and this city."
Leading And Giving
In 2006, Mrs. Anderson received one of Mayor Slay's Spirit Awards and was honored at the Mayor's Business Celebration luncheon.
It was one of numerous awards Mrs. Anderson received. Other honors included being named among the Top 25 Female Business Owners of St. Louis and receiving the St. Louis Argus Distinguished Citizen Award, both in 1998. She received the Women in Vision Female Entrepreneur of the Year Award, 1999; Distinguished Woman Business Owner of the Year Award, 2000-NAWBO; 2006 St. Louis American Salute to Excellence Business Entrepreneur of the Year Award, presented by the St. Louis Regional Chamber & Growth Association and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis; 2008 Salute to Women in Leadership Business Leadership Award; 2007 YWCA 's Leaders Lunch honoree for entrepreneurship and the 2009 St. Louis Minority Business Council Minority Business Enterprise of the Year Award.
Mrs. Anderson was a member of Agape Christian Center, National Association of Female Executives, St. Louis Minority Business Council, St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association, Missouri Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Alliance of Business; I.B.P.O.E. of W. (Elks); a board member of the Gateway Classic Sports Foundation and the United Way of Greater St. Louis, where she was part of the Charmaine Chapman Society leadership giving initiative.
"Mom was the most giving person that I know," Larry Lee said. "She was a quiet, unassuming person, but a strong, ardent supporter of whatever was being done that she thought was good."
A Success Story
Katherine Jean Lee was born June 25, 1933, in Osceola, Ark., the eldest of William Lee and Odessa Jones Lee's 11 children.
She had to leave Osceola to go to high school because no school in the area would allow African Americans to attend. She graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, where President Barack Obama delivered the 2011 commencement address.
She attended the old Mississippi Industrial College in Holly Springs, Miss., and then moved to St. Louis and attended Tucker Business College and Florissant Valley Community College.
She began her long tenure with the City of St. Louis in the License Collector's office before moving to the Board of Election Commissioners, where she worked for 25 years.
"Hers was a great success story," Slay said.
Mrs. Anderson was preceded in death by her husband, Reuben, whom she married in 1972, her parents, three brothers, a sister and two sons, Rudolph and Gregory Lee.
Her survivors include three sons, all of whom work at Andy's Seasonings: The Rev. Larry W. Lee, director of operations, Michael Lee, plant manager, and Roy Lee, manager for information technology, and a stepson, Jun Anderson of Texas. She is also survived by three sisters, Mildred (Edward) Clay, Cleveland; Juanita (Norman) Neal, St. Louis; Margaret Jackson, St. Louis; and three brothers, William (Otha) Lee, St. Louis, Herman Lee, Los Angeles, and David Lee, Riverside, Calif.; and six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate memorials to the St. Louis Gateway Classic Sports Foundation, 2012 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, St. Louis, Mo. 63106 or www.gatewayclassic.org.
Visitation will be from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday (Nov. 27), at Austin A. Layne Mortuary, 7733 Natural Bridge Road, Normandy 63121. Services will conducted by her son, Larry Lee, at 11 a.m., Monday (Nov. 28), at Agape Christian Center, 2410 Gardner Drive, Moline Acres 63136.
Gloria Ross is the head of Okara Communications and the storywriter for AfterWords, an obituary-writing and production service. To reach her, contact Beacon contributing editor Richard H. Weiss..