Two Austin-area companies win big at H-E-B food product contest

Aug 14, 2017
Adrian Paredes and his family celebrate their win on Friday at the Central Texas Food Bank. Contributed by Ben Porter

Bone broth, beef jerky, butter coffee, pecan cakes, a line of chilaquiles sauces and two very different kinds of empanadas were among the finalists at the fourth annual H-E-B Quest for Texas Best competition, but a vegan dessert company that started in Austin won the top prize of $25,000.

Skull & Cakebones, the company founded in Austin four years ago by Sascha Biesi and Yauss Berenji, won the grand prize of $25,000 on Friday, concluding two days of pitches from 25 finalists at the Central Texas Food Bank.

“This means that we’re doing something right,” say Berenji, when asked what this award means. Last year, the couple moved their business to Dripping Springs, where they now operate a small storefront and commercial kitchen. What are they going to do with the cash prize? “Pay off our freezer, take our staff out for a night of well-deserved fun and save it for the next pitfall.”

Thanks to a tie in the judges’ room, the Texas Pecan Cake Shop and WarPig BBQ tied for first place and each won $20,000.

The Manor-based tamale company Tamale Addiction won $15,000, and La Familia Cortez, which runs a handful of popular San Antonio restaurants, including the iconic Mi Tierra, won $10,000 for third place for a tomatillo sauce.

For Tamale Addiction owner Adrian Paredes, the most important part of the competition was that his 14-year-old twins, Andrea and Valentina, got a chance to pitch the panel of judges and learn the marketing and sales part of running a business. “After we presented yesterday, I was super proud,” he says. “Even if we didn’t win anything, my goal was accomplished.”

H-E-B received more than 600 entries from food companies around the state, and though the four winners are nearly guaranteed a spot on H-E-B shelves, many of the finalists will end up there, too.

Some of these finalists, including Austin’s Bola Pizza, are already available in a limited number of H-E-Bs, while others, such as the tomatillo sauce from Mi Tierra in San Antonio or the insanely popular ranch dressing from Bosses Pizza restaurants near Fort Worth, came from well-known restaurants that are just getting into the retail market. A handful of Austin-area products were in the mix, including Wander Life’s powdered coconut creamer, Fond bone broth and Ladybird Provisions, which makes a butter coffee bomb.

Many of these competing companies got their start at farmers markets around the state and were founded in recent years, but others, such as Chilito’s Sauces in Boerne and Texas Pecan Cake Shop in Bertram, gained traction in restaurants or through online and sales at boutique shops and festivals.

A number of the companies have built in a charitable component to their product. WarPig BBQ, which is based in Houston, donated 50 cents from the sale of each bottle to veterans’ groups. Just Made, a tropical juice company from Houston, donates 5 cents from every juice to educational projects in the countries where they source their fruit.

Over the four years of the contest, H-E-B has given nearly $300,000 to Texas food companies. More than 2,000 businesses have entered the contest of the years. Full disclosure: I was one of the judges on the panel, and my fellow judges included H-E-B culinary director Scott Tompkins and Texas Monthly editor Pat Sharpe.