Food Interview

Backyard Food Company's Can-Do Attitude

How friends Matt McClelland and Louby Sukkar transformed a hobby into a thriving, independent small business

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Selling jams, salsas and other tasty condiments, The Backyard Food Company began at Warren’s Hope and Main just a few years ago, using organic produce from a Warwick backyard. Now, the local supplier can be found in stores from Maine to Florida, including Clements Marketplace in Portsmouth, Grapes and Grains in Barrington and Kate and Company in Bristol. We sat down with co-founders Matt McClelland and Louby Sukkar to talk about their journey and what’s next for their growing business.

We’re hearing a lot of buzz about Backyard Food Company.
Matt: We’re a local condiments company using simple ingredients that you’d find in your kitchen. We cook in small batches and we make better tasting food than what’s available in the supermarket.

Louby: We don’t use chemicals in any of our ingredients. We try to use preservatives like vinegars that have taste, and to stay away from preservatives found in a lot of other foods.

How did you two meet?
Matt: I had cancer five years ago. I had just met Louby not long before that because our sons were in kindergarten together. My cancer was in my intestines, so I wanted to look at what I was putting into my body. Louby helped me build [a garden in my yard]. We had 200 tomato plants and then planted a giant garden in his yard, and we started harvesting things to preserve.

Louby: We had so much left over that we started looking to older generations about how they preserved on the farms. We came across some great family recipes. Then, one day, I had a birthday party for my son. We didn’t have enough food to last through the night, so Matt and I pulled out the tomato jam and the candied jalapeños. Everyone went nuts over it. One woman, who was in the PTO, requested we make an apple butter for each of the teachers. Our company started organically… from our garden. It was never this big plan to become “the relish kings.”

How do you handle the challenges of the growing in season Rhode Island?
Matt: You’re really subject to whatever the weather is for the season. Since we’re in over 300 stores now, we’re not growing our own produce. We have greenhouses at Louby’s pizza place that we use for growing hot peppers and stuff like that.

Louby: We just got a grant that’s going to help us grow a certain amount of hot peppers so we can maintain our levels and grow our own peppers responsibly. That’s on the docket for next year.

What’s a fall must-try?
Matt: Our New England cranberry apple jam is great. It’s made with all local apples and cranberries… right here in Rhode Island. Our tomato jam, apple butter and our line of salsas are delicious.

What’s coming up next?
Matt: Our food service has really started to take off. Smashburger, a Denver-based burger chain, reached out – now we make all their Rhode Island and Connecticut relishes. A lot of restaurants are interested in getting our condiments.

Louby: We’re making sure not to [grow] too quickly because Matt and I really believe in sustained growth. Timing is everything.