Beneva Mayweather Foods brings 'America's grandmother' to Memphis kitchens

Daniel Watson continues the legacy of his grandmother with Beneva Mayweather Foods, a South Memphis business that makes homemade yeast rolls and cinnamon rolls.

Beneva Mayweather Foods is one South Memphis man’s labor of love to honor his late grandmother. Her recipes live on in Daniel Watson’s South Memphis kitchen.

Watson founded Beneva Mayweather Foods in 2007 to honor his grandmother, Beneva Mayweather, who died in 2000 while he was in his freshman year at Atlanta’s Morehouse College.

Mayweather operated Mayweather Catering for many years, and when Watson graduated with honors in 2004, he decided to return home to help his aunt continue the business.

“That was a huge hit on the family,” Watson said. “She was the backbone of the catering business. People loved her food and her as a person.”

Daniel Watson, owner of Beneva Mayweather Foods, in his South Memphis commercial kitchen.Watson’s aunt, Emma Lincoln, wrote a cookbook to honor Mayweather. “Our Mother’s Table: The Culinary Journey of Beneva Mayweather” continued the matriarch’s legacy. Watson jumped in to assist where he could with the catering business.

Watson wanted to transition from a service model to retail to better reach additional customers, and a line of products under Beneva Mayweather Foods was born. Watson started with items like salad dressing and a peppermint ice cream but ultimately moved away from those items as he decided it was hard to compete against the big players in the prepared food industry.

“My aunt said try seasonings,” Watson said. “Everyone loves my grandmother’s chicken. She used to do executive luncheons where people wanted a down-home meal that was symbolic of what she did.”

Watson’s approach to bringing his grandmother’s legacy into the 21st century is three-phased. The seasonings are an homage to the Mayweather matriarch and Watson brings his own twist with baked breads and cinnamon rolls. Eventually, he wants to introduce frozen entrees.

The seasoning blend came from his grandmother’s chicken recipe. Watson sold it out of the trunk of his car until he secured his first local distribution deals with Piggly Wiggly and Easy Way.

Thanks to help from a group of investors, Watson was ready to stock two of his seasonings in Memphis Kroger stores a couple of years later. He said the spice business was hard to sustain because seasonings don’t sell as frequently as other food staples.

Daniel Watson checks on bread and cinnamon rolls.

Watson needed money coming in to produce more seasonings but with slow-moving inventory he couldn’t make more. The solution? Add baked goods, which have become the bread and butter, so to speak, of Beneva Mayweather Foods.

Today, the main products available are yeast and cinnamon rolls. Flight Restaurant was the first to order Watson’s homemade goods and now more restaurants and variety of groceries in the market have followed.

Beneva Mayweather’s breads are in Superlo Foods, High Point Grocery, Miss Cordelia’s and a variety of other specialty stores.

The breads aren’t in Kroger, but that will change later this year when Watson will start to stock in a handful of key Memphis stores.

“From that point if I’m doing well in the Memphis market it’s pretty feasible that we could hit other markets as well,” Watson said. “My ultimate goal is to turn the baked goods side into a franchise model so that whatever market we’re in you get fresh product.”

Beneva Mayweather's Foods seasoning blends are inspired by Daniel Watson's family recipe.

Curbside Casseroles, which prepares meals for customers out of its East Memphis location, also uses Watson’s rolls. Curbside’s staff make almost everything from scratch. But when owner Bradford Williams came across Watson’s rolls, she knew she had to use those instead. She now places a weekly order for the rolls.

“I’m always looking for one item that’s unique or different,” she said. “I was at Charlie’s Meat Market on Summer and noticed these homemade yeast rolls. I bought some and sampled them at work and got everybody’s opinion. Everyone went crazy about them. I had to find out who this was.”

Watson is deliberate about his growth. As a one-man shop there is only so much he can do to work relationships and make sure product remains stocked. He operates out of a commercial kitchen in South Memphis.

Daniel Watson bakes for restaurant clients and sells packaged goods to local groceries.

Watson bakes the breads. Newly Weds Foods packs the products in its Horn Lake and Illinois plants.

Watson has received minor loans from the Renaissance Business Center as well as River City Capital.

“Entrepreneurship is not just a title,” Watson said. “It really is an entrepreneurial spirit. You have to embody it and be the personification of whatever it is you’re doing to create that product and how you want the product to be received.”

And everything at Beneva Mayweather Foods goes back to the legacy of the company’s namesake.

“I put a lot into the quality and I’m passionate and meticulous about the time I put into preparing the items,” Watson said.

“But it’s my grandmother’s face on the label. I want that to represent America’s grandmother. It goes back to that place in everyone’s lives to that significant person in their life who was always preparing delicious food. I want that to be the reason the brand resonates with people.”

Read more articles by Lance Wiedower.

Lance is a veteran journalist with more than 16 years of experience in newsrooms in the Memphis area as a reporter and editor, including most recently as managing editor of The Daily News. He regularly contributes to The Daily News, including a biweekly travel column, The Daily Traveler. 
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