By JOHN CORNYN
Jeffrey Fuquay has a simple outlook on business.
“The harder you work, the luckier you get,” Jeffrey says. And he should know – as the owner of TJ Blackburn Syrup Works, Jeffrey has seen how nearly nine decades of hard work can turn a scrap of paper into a Texas icon.
Fuquay’s grandparents, Thomas Jefferson “TJ” Blackburn and his wife Lurline, started TJ Blackburn Syrup Works in Cass County, Texas in the 1920s. The Blackburns were struggling to get by and had turned to renting a spare bedroom in their already modest home to drifters in return for chores and other meager payments. One couple came through in 1927 and could offer only a scrap of paper with a misspelled “Receipt for Huney” scribbled on it.
The Blackburns mixed the recipe back in their tool shed, and with a few tweaks, came up with a signature syrup. Word got out among their neighbors, and soon enough people started wanting a batch for themselves. TJ took to the streets in his Model-T Ford delivering freshly-jarred syrup door-to-door.
Eighty-eight years later, the Blackburns have upgraded from four wheels to 18, and a single Model-T has been replaced by a full-scale trucking operation. They’ve grown from a family mixing sugars in an old wash pot to a Jefferson, Texas, based operation employing 65 – many sharing the Blackburn ancestry.
Their secret to success? Blackburn’s syrup is made from ribbon cane, a Southern favorite over more common maple and honey-based varieties. Fuquay told the Marshall News Messenger, “it has more of a bite, a real strong flavor…I can think of maybe only two other companies that still use sugar cane.”
Of course, to cater to growing demand beyond East Texas, Blackburn Syrup Works has expanded its catalogue of sweet spreads to include honey and maple-based syrups, as well as a variety of jams and preserves. And with that, the local family-owned company went national; Blackburn’s syrups and jams – once carried only as far as TJ’s Model-T could take him – are now sold in all 50 states.
Despite national fame, Fuquay has kept Blackburn Syrup Works true to its Texas roots, picking most ingredients from Texas farms. Even the fruit that isn’t grown in Texas still is American-grown.
Another Blackburn trademark that’s stood the test of time is the iconic glass mug. And for good reason – sales have fallen when different types of containers have been used. Fuquay explained, “Your eyes gravitate toward the mug,” and then the quality keeps you coming back to their sweet spreads.
Of course, over 88 years, some things have changed: there are now sugar-free and fructose-free options to cater to those watching their waistlines. And not surprisingly, they’ve upgraded their plant in Jefferson quite a few times to keep up with growing demand and technology.
What will always remain is the age-old Texas-made quality, and the message behind the success of the Blackburn family’s syrup enterprise: as Fuquay reminds us, luck doesn’t come without a lot of hard work.
Cornyn is a United States Senator for Texas.