Business lore is filled with stories of successful companies that started out as mere hobbies.
TXQ Rubs is not one of them. Lou Castro, the Brownsville native who founded the Brownsville-based enterprise in 2017, said his plan from the get-go was to build a profitable company on the strength of his recipes, starting with TXQ Rubs (956), an all-purpose rub combining traditional flavors of the region like garlic, cumin, five different peppers (more for flavor than heat), lime and, for a well rounded finish, a touch of turbinado sugar.
The company’s first sale was on Jan. 19, 2017, out of the back of Castro’s truck in a parking lot next to Academy Sports. He didn’t have permission exactly, but he was left alone. Castro’s wife, Melissa, and son, Champ, joined him in those early days.
“We would sit out there on weekends and I would post on Facebook and we’d sit back and wait,” he said. “Sure enough we’d sell some rub in the Academy parking lot.”
From those humble beginnings the business has taken off, with three more Texas-region-specific rubs on offer and the company’s products in 220 H-E-B stores among other retailers, plus a thriving online business.
“We’re very fortunate that people grabbed onto it and continue to do so,” Castro said.
So far two of the company’s rubs are on H-E-B shelves: (956), the original, and TXQ Rubs (210), which references San Antonio’s area code and was concocted as a fajita rub, he said. Also available online are the (214) steak-and-veggie rub and the 512 “brisket and big beef” rub, representing the Dallas and Austin area codes, respectively, Castro said. More area-code/region specific rubs are under development.
He said he got the idea for using area codes to market after seeing posts on the “Da Pit is Lit” barbecue Facebook group from people “representing 956” from far-flung places like Iowa and Minnesota.
“I said that’s it. Here’s what we’re going to do,” Castro said. “We’re going to name our rubs after area codes. People identify with area codes. … You have to understand I come up with ridiculous stuff all the time. My wife’s used to hearing just complete nonsense come out of my mouth. She’ll roll her eyes and kind of ignore me and usually it goes away.”
This time, though, he kept talking about it until Melissa finally told him that if he was really serious about it “then let’s do it,” Castro said.
Getting his products onto H-E-B shelves certainly took some doing, he said. TXQ Rubs entered the H-E-B Quest for Texas Best competition two years in a row but was passed over by judges each time, though when they heard about the company’s Supplier Diversity Opportunity Exchange and Expo held in San Antonio the Castro’s hit the road with a new-and-improved booth setup “hoping to get in front of the right people.”
Theirs was among 100 booths at the expo pitching salsas, seasonings and all manner of products. Castro was told that the man he needed to talk to was “Arturo,” an H-E-B sourcing manager, though with only 10 minutes left in the event Arturo still hadn’t materialized. Castro said he asked for help from the guy running the event, found Arturo, gave him a taste of rub along with the entire history of the business and marketing concept. Arturo said to expect an email, which eventually arrived, requesting that the Castros return to San Antonio.
“We drove back up there and sat down with the buyers, gave them samples again, told them the whole story, how we came up with the marketing concept etc.,” Castro said. “They liked it and they picked us up. It’s amazing. It really is. We’re an H-E-B Primo Pick.”
That was two years ago. The Castros now are working hard to get more product on more shelves, preparing a targeted ad campaign and doing whatever else is necessary to ensure the company’s continued growth and success, he said.
“Right now we are focused on H-E-B,” Castro said. “Our goal is to be in every H-E-B in the state.”
TXQ Rubs is also setting its sights on Buc-ee’s and Academy — just not in the parking lot — with plans to branch out into sauces and snacks and eventually smoked meats, he said.
“I want to take over the culinary world,” Castro said. “I want us to be in everybody’s cabinet, in everybody’s pantry.”
For more information, visit txqrubs.com.