“Life is like a box of chocolates,” Bubba Blue heard his pal Forrest Gump say. But to Mykelti Williamson, the actor who played Bubba to Tom Hanks’ Gump in the 1994 film, life is more like a mix of cumin, brown sugar, turmeric and paprika. Spice-and-herb blends are not only the key to sublime catfish, chicken, brisket and tofu, but they also are—for Williamson—a calling.
The actor has sold his “Bubba Style” seasonings through an online store (BubbaStyle.net) since March 2012. Before then, the blends—which he perfected as a 10-year-old under the tutelage of his grill-master stepdad—were an inside Hollywood secret. In the ’80s, when he acted on TV shows such as Hill Street Blues, Williamson sprinkled his home-mixed spices on chicken wings and cooked them under the enormous, scorching floodlights. Three wings cost $2, and “people would go nuts. They just loved them.” He later sold the seasonings out of the trunk of his car.
Today, Williamson peddles the blends to fellow cast members on FX’s Justified and Fox’s Touched. “During breaks and lunch, I’m like a drug dealer. I’ve got it rolling.” Nowadays a co-packer mixes and bottles the products, now sold online, but the actor personally fills orders out of his Los Angeles home—with help from his wife and their 12- and 13-year-old daughters. “If you receive a package of Bubba Style, you know that somewhere along the way I actually had my hands on it.”
He’s still refining the business. One seasoning batch had to be tossed because the taste was off (he samples everything), and Williamson wants a new label design. “I’m a positive realist. If things aren’t going according to plan, we try to figure out why, or we come up with a new plan. But that’s part of the fun of growing a brand.” Sales are increasing, Williamson says, from the 30 daily orders of the website’s early days. “We’re in the phase of elevating awareness of the online store. By summer we’d like to be in supermarkets across the country”; the seasonings were not in any supermarkets at press time.
How sweet is Williamson on spices? “This isn’t just a part-time thing for me. I love it so much I could leave Hollywood and just run Bubba Style.”