Secret Family Recipe Saved Local Cannery From Closing
Written By: Travis Buhler | Posted: Tuesday, May 25th, 2010
People all across the country are familiar with Bush's Best Baked Beans and the several commercials promoting the great tasting secret family recipe that only Jay Bush and his talking dog "Duke" know. But little do people know that the origin of the largest canned baked beans product has its roots in Augusta, Wisconsin.
"I remember all of us at the factory spending a whole month producing baked beans. Little did I realize the whole time that our jobs were on the line." recalls one employee, who has worked at the canning facility in Augusta since 1968.
Bush Brothers and Company's Condon Bush purchased the abandoned cannery on the south side of Augusta in 1962 and by the following year they were canning navy beans, southern peas, green peas, and many other bean products at the productive plant.
But because many of the beans did not grow well this far north and production slowed to a stop in the winter, the newly operating cannery was losing money. The president of Bush Bros. gave Condon an ultimatum: make profit, or shut it down.
Says Condon, "It became necessary to do something to make some money or we were going to end up closing our Augusta plant and I was going to be looking for work." He needed a product that would sell and that could be made year round.
Condon had an idea, "My mother was an excellent cook. My cousins and I still have fond memories of Sunday dinners at home. We decided that what we would do was make a baked bean recipe that was as near as what mother would make as was possible."
So with the permission of the company, the Augusta cannery started work on their new line of canned baked beans. Soon the president of Bush Bros., C. J. Ethier, was excited, "It appears that we have 'turned the corner' at Augusta."
Soon the stockholders were impressed. "The first year we sold ten thousand cases and the next year we sold a hundred thousand cases, and the next year we sold something like (I think) close to a million cases. By this time it was getting really interesting!" said Condon Bush.
By the late 1970's and early 80's, it became clear that the line of "table-ready" products would become the major focus of the canning company. Condon Bush was promoted to president of Bush Brothers and Company and moved to their headquarters in Tennessee. Starting in the 90's, Bush Bros. started their marketing campaign featuring the famous commercials with Jay Bush and his talking dog "Duke".
The Cannery is still the largest employer in Augusta, and each year on the first weekend of July the community hosts its "Beans and Bacon Days" celebration. Bush Bros. is grateful to be located in this area. Says Jim Ethier, "Bush Brothers and Company is indeed fortunate to have located in Augusta, which has proven to be a supportive community and a source of committed employees."
Travis Buhler paints houses and is a regular contributor to the Eau Claire Journal. He and his wife Jennifer have six children and live in Augusta.