HomeGrown: Jay Bush

4:01 PM, Mar 26, 2013   |    comments
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For half a century, families across America have been serving up Bush Beans. But the company's origins date back to Jay Bush's great Grandfather and Jefferson County.

"Chestnut Hill was kind of the center of the "Bush" universe," said Jay Bush, pointing to his great grandparent's home. "This is the A.J. Bush original homestead. I think they built it in 1886."

In 1908, A.J. started a tomato cannery, canning tomatoes for Stokely Brothers along with other vegetables. Over the years, production grew to Arkansas, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Louisiana.

"Back in 1968, my dad invented the bake bean up in Wisconsin and that's how the baked beans started."

And, it really is a family secret, based on Jay's Grandmother Kathleen's recipe.

"As long as Duke is quiet, we're good," joked Bush.

At age 15, Jay's father became President of Bush Brothers and they moved to Knoxville.

"For me, it was the best thing that ever happened. I went to Webb in a 3 piece corduroy, rust colored suit with earth shoes. I was styling!"

Apparently, his outfit impressed his wife, Susan.

"We met in high school- high school sweet hearts."

Jay was the third generation to go to the University of Tennessee. However, thanks to his dad's stipulations, joining the family business wasn't a guarantee.

"You gotta have a degree, plus a masters degree. And, you gotta work somewhere else."

From labels and big rigs to the greens shed, Jay worked various jobs in the plant throughout college.

"I loved being with those people and a lot of them are still here today. It was a great experience."

Jay majored in Logistics. After graduation, he worked for other companies. But in 1990, his grandfather died and Jay decided it was time to come home. In 1993, the expanding company needed a spokesperson. Jay auditioned after his 12 hour plant shift.

"It was awful. I mean, it was awful."

But the ad agency didn't think so. Jay got a call back.

"I was like, really? Really?"

In 1994, Jay starred in the company's first national ad.

"It took us 56 takes."

Duke came on board 2 years later.

"He's the star and that's good with me."

Now, after nearly a hundred commercials, Jay and Duke have become household names.

"The most fun for me is watching my glasses grow and shrink and grow and grow and shrink."

In '96, Jay and his family moved to the Wisconsin plant.

"It was a really tough decision."

Jay said it was a right move for the company. To date, in addition to canned vegetables, Bush Brothers bakes up 25 different types of beans with hundreds of flavors.

"This is far beyond our wildest dreams."

For Jay, his favorite is a toss up.

"I go between our new grill and beans and the old original. It's tough. I go back and forth."

And, who knows, maybe soon he'll be back home where it all started.

"That's to be continued. I hope so."

Bush Brothers, born in Chestnut Hill, HomeGrown in Tennessee. 

The Bush Brothers Museum and Visitors Center is located across from the Chestnut Hill plant at 3901 Highway 411 in Dandridge, Tennessee. It's open from 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

For more information call (865) 509-3077.

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