Butt Rub celebrates 20

Deborah Wheeler | 315-4432 | @WaltonSunDeb | dwheeler@waltonsun.com
The original Bad Byron's Butt Rub on the shelf. SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Many people may not know that South Walton is home to a product that brings in $3 million in sales annually, and it has no connection to tourism.

Santa Rosa Beach is the home and base of Bad Byron's Butt Rub, which can be found on store shelves throughout the Southeast and in Europe.

Its founder is Byron Chism, a familiar face to most long-time locals who knew him when he used to cook at area restaurants.

Back in those days, the beach saw a considerable off season when restaurants and their employees had free time during the winter. It was during one of these times that Chism came up with his butt rub.

"Perfecting it was trial and error," he said. "I did a lot of cooking and I had an old Texas cookbook that talked about rubs as a way of barbecuing. But they were not traditionally used here."

Chism wanted to try it, so his next door neighbor built the equipment and taught him the basics of how to barbecue butts -- low and slow over a steady fire with patience, then enjoy.

"It was happenstance, and we cooked a lot of barbecue," said Chism. "Back then you had to build the equipment."

Chism named his product Bad Byron's Butt Rub because at the time he was trying to think of a name, he had the rub in one hand and a butt in the other, he recalled with amusement.

"I put it together with the concept of old Texas trails in mind," said the Orange, Texas, native.

His first sale was to Cocoon's Deli in Seagrove on May 31, 1997, and the second was to Seagrove Village Market.

Since then, Bad Byron's Butt Rub has come a long way. January will mark its 20th anniversary.

"It was ahead of its time," said Chism.

Not long after getting his Butt Rub into local stores, Chism began branching out. In 2000, he began packaging Jubilee seasoning. Then honey with a label bearing his mother's image followed, peanuts seasoned with Butt Rub, then whole bean coffee. His Unca Duke's Geaux Jus is a collaborative effort with his friend Duke Bardwell.

In January, he will introduce two new items: potato chips seasoned with Butt Rub, and Texas Tea BBQ sauce.

"It has been one brick at a time," said Chism.

His secret?

"I believed in it early on. That was most important," Chism said. "I poured everything I had into it. The first grocery chain to carry it was Piggly Wiggly out of Alabama. I remember watching that shipment go off in 2002. That was a moment."

Now, Butt Rub is in all major grocery stores across the Southeast, including Costco and Sam's.

"We have been making a lot of inroads," Chism said humbly. "I want to saturate the South. Grocery stats for seasonings show us at No. 1. We're outselling all others."

Chism has used his Butt Rub in barbecue competitions he has competed in all over the United States and Europe. He began competing a year after Butt Rub debuted and has a room full and stacked to the ceiling of his ribbons, trophies and plaques -- even he does not know how many.

"I have collected a few over the years. I started competing to get promotional attention for Butt Rub," he said.

These competitions took him to Europe in 2011 to compete there, and he has since hosted international teams here in the U. S.

"Europe is a growing market for barbecue, and it's helping to get Butt Rub noticed," he said. "Lots of times I am the only American over there competing and I am representing an entire country. It's our cuisine."

Chism admits that he had a passion for competing, but after 20 years, he feels like the former football player who has moved into the booth to comment on the game.

"I'm kinda in the booth now. Let the new kids have a shot at it," he said. "I cook because I enjoy it. I felt it was good for the company if I was a champion. It's not necessary now."

These days, Butt Rub sales top $3 million a year and he has six full-time employees.

Is he surprised at the success?

"I never underestimated how big it could be," he said. "Someone asked me this years ago and I said there is no end in sight. I still stick by that. I now have a distributor in Australia. There is a lot of potential, but we have a long way to go. We are just rolling good."

Look for Butt Rub products on your local shelves.