By JANICE WAGG, Contributing Writer
Until he moved to Memphis, Tenn., from Oklahoma, Mark Lambert will be the first to tell you he knew nothing about cooking barbecue, but eventually it would change his life.
While attending then Memphis State University, Lambert sold cell phones for BellSouth Mobility. His employer asked if he wanted to help at the company’s tent at Memphis in May.
For two years he helped set up and take down the display and also entertain customers and, of course, sell cell phones. During this time, he also learned about cooking from a friend. Then BellSouth cut its funding and that opportunity stopped.
Lambert had learned to enjoy cooking barbecue and wanted to continue. In order to do so, he and his friends had to solicit sponsors and raise funds to continue on their own.
As a college student, he also waited tables, learning many people skills. His most important discovery while working as a waiter was meeting his future wife, Bracie. After the birth of their two children, Weston and Maddie, they made the move to Olive Branch in 1997 to raise their family.
While his wife embraced his barbecue-competing adventures, it was an expensive hobby to finance while raising a family. He began selling cookers to fund his love of barbecue competitions. A local dealer had moved and had no one to sell cookers for him in the local market. Lambert became that dealer. He sold cookers out of his garage, then a storage shed out back and then a storage unit.
He was offered a job with a construction company (he knew nothing about construction) and was hired primarily because the company had an important client who wanted to learn competitive barbecue. He was able to move his cooker distribution into the construction company’s warehouse. The company also private-labeled and continues today to use his rubs/sauces to leave with a client as advertising.
In 2005, his team won the championship in the pork shoulder division in Memphis in May. After a few years of placing and winning and sometimes not winning, Lambert was mixing seasonings at home when he connected with a local co-packer who produced and distributed his seasonings. In 2009 a national co-packer agreed to produce and distribute Lambert’s seasonings. A national trade show also began to use his barbecue sauce.
Throughout the years of selling sauces and rubs, people would ask him to sell their products, which he often did, creating a need for him to find space.
Through a Byhalia native, Brandt Edwards, who Lambert had met through the barbecue circuit, he found space in the old Gem Inc. building in Byhalia. As the space became inadequate, he drove around the Byhalia area and came across his current location. The building appeared not to be in use. Again, he reached out to Edwards who connected him with the building’s owner who was ready to sell.
Lambert purchased the building on Edwards Road in 2015. He was able to expand into a full-fledged barbecue store. He bought the rights to a smoker that was being discontinued and modified it into what it needed to be. You can now find it in his store or on the website as the Red Box Smoker, a customer favorite producing big smoker flavor on a smaller scale.
Then came COVID, and it actually became good for business with direct to customer sales. It became harder to find reliable employees. It was time to back up and reevaluate. He was able to leverage distribution of his rubs and seasoning through the international spice manufacturer, Old World Spices, to increase sales. He turned his focus to grills and smokers, selling more expensive goods with fewer transactions through Sweet Swine O’ Mine Smoker and Grill Super Store. His two children are his valued employees at the store.
Before COVID, 60 percent of sales were in store with 40 percent online. The pandemic created a demand for online sales for outdoor cooking equipment and accessories.
Lambert has a three-fold approach. He sells products, he is a competitor, and he is an educator. When a customer commits to purchasing a cooker, he asks questions to determine exactly what the customer needs and prides himself in educating them on the correct way to prepare and cook all types of meats. He believes competitions give credibility to his products.
His educational approach includes:
• teaching one-on-one (person to person) cooking classes
• working with commercial barbecue restaurants through consulting
• teaching barbecue cooking classes at www.bbqchampsacademy.com
• traveling for in-store cooking classes and demonstrations
He is also on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. Prior to COVID, he held four classes a year in Mexico. Lambert and his team compete all over the country. He is most proud of the fact that he has won numerous World Championships in multiple sanctioning bodies including Memphis in May, Memphis BBQ Network, Kansas City BBQ Society, Houston Livestock Rodeo BBQ, American Royal World Series of BBQ, and Steak Cookoff Association.
Multiple versions of Lambert’s creations of Sweet Rub O’ Mine and Sweet Sauce O’ Mine can be found locally at Kroger in the Buy Local Section, Lowe’s, Ace Hardware, Bass Pro, Sportsman Warehouse, TSC, and Cabela’s.
Of course, you can walk into his place of business at 113 Edwards Road in Byhalia and shop for grills, charcoal, product lines that support grilling and accessories. Learn even more by visiting his website at ssomd.com.
Lambert is a Worldwide Champion Pit Master with technical expertise who develops products that align with the barbecue seeker – both for the competitor and the backyard barbecue cooker. He is always learning to remain relevant and current to be a benefit to the barbecue seeker. Customers call his shop and are surprised to be talking to Lambert himself.
His love of cooking and food came from his mother and even when he didn’t realize it, food and cooking were always a common theme in his life whether obviously or in the background. The restaurant business taught him to read people quickly and how to connect with them.
“It is important to learn how to deliver food to real people. Most people know how to cook, but not all know how to create an experience,” Lambert.
When disaster strikes from tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, fires or other natural disasters you will find Lambert and a group of his associates loading up their mobile Operation Relief barbecue trucks and heading to the area to provide food to first responders and victims. He also hosts numerous fundraising events in the form of cook-offs for charities or sometimes just for someone in need.
“You spend a lifetime learning how to get, but at some point, you have to learn how to give,” Lambert said.