East Tennessee company's secret recipe becomes Southern staple

East Tennessee company's secret recipe becomes Southern staple

Updated:
Bush Brothers makes several flavors of grillin' beans. Bush Brothers makes several flavors of grillin' beans.
Max Fultz walked us through the company's museum, telling us how it all started. Max Fultz walked us through the company's museum, telling us how it all started.
You can have a slice of pinto bean pie at the visitor's center. You can have a slice of pinto bean pie at the visitor's center.
Bush Brothers only cans beans and hominy at its East Tennessee location. Bush Brothers only cans beans and hominy at its East Tennessee location.
Jay Bush had a dog just like Duke when he was growing up. (source: Bush Brothers) Jay Bush had a dog just like Duke when he was growing up. (source: Bush Brothers)

By KRISTIN FARLEY
6 News Anchor/Reporter

CHESTNUT HILL (WATE) - Bush Beans are a staple on many dinner tables and a favorite at cookouts, but did you know Bush Brothers & Company started and continues to operate in East Tennessee?

Chances are, you've seen the commercials with Duke the dog saying, "Roll that beautiful bean footage."

Duke has been featured in lots of commercials since the 1990s and now has a prominent role in the company's relatively new visitor's center in the Jefferson County community of Chestnut Hill.

You can get your picture taken there with Duke, try to steal the family's secret recipe, use an interactive display to learn how their beans are made, measure your weight in beans and even eat pinto bean pie.

Bush Brothers & Company

But behind all of the fun, there's a 104-year-old family business and true East Tennessee success story.

Max Fultz walked us through the company's museum, telling us how it all started. "A.J. Bush, our founder, he was a school teacher here first in Jefferson County and then he opened this general store," he said.

Fultz says in the early 1900s, Bush and his wife, Sally, began building a mill on their property, nestled between Newport and Dandridge. The hope was to make more money to feed their six kids.

However, before the plans were complete, another local family made an offer that changed everything.

"The Stokely family from up in Newport came down and visited and said, we need help canning tomatoes. They said if you build the building, we'll furnish the equipment. So he (Bush) kind of got in a partnership in 1904." So the Bush family got their start canning tomatoes, instead of beans. 

Four years later, the company changed again. "In 1908, he (Bush) was able to buy the equipment from the Stokelys and form Bush Brothers & Company," Fultz said.

Their focus was still not on canning pork and beans. Instead it was on just about any kind of produce locals would bring to them.

At the same time, A.J.'s merchandise store took off. "It was the super center of the day," Fultz said. "You could get pre-natal supplies here. You could buy hardware, all the way up to ordering a coffin here."

In the 1960s, a family member had the idea to re-create and can a real secret family recipe. "The Bush secret family recipe is a Chestnut Hill recipe from Kathleen Bush, " Fultz said. "Jay Bush, who does our commercials, it was his grandmother's (recipe)."

Almost immediately, company officials say they dominated the pork and beans market. Today they consider themselves a bean-focused company.

Made in Tennessee was only allowed limited access to the manufacturing process, but we do know Bush Brothers only cans beans and hominy at its East Tennessee location.

To get to this point, there have been a lot of changes over the last century, including phasing out old equipment and replacing old buildings. 

But one building on the property will never be torn down, the original family home. It's right across the street from the visitors center. The home was built in 1909 and restored in 2005.

It's used for private functions and only open to the public one time a year at Christmas. "The second Sunday in December we decorate for Christmas," Fultz said. "The open house is the second Sunday in December and we have two local churches to host it."

The family goes to great lengths to respect and share their past, and they're always looking toward the future.

"There are always new products in the pipeline, so just stay tuned," Fultz said. "Every year in the next few years, there will be new product lines being launched on a regular basis."

For those who wonder if there's a real Duke the dog in the family, the answer is yes. Jay Bush had a dog just like Duke when he was growing up.

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