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Family determined to ensure legacy of Colonel De Gourmet Herbs and Spices will endure and grow

By David Holthaus
NKyTribune reporter

It’s been a little more than six months since De Stewart, better known as Colonel De, died suddenly, leaving behind the business he conceived and grew, Colonel De Gourmet Herbs and Spices.

Susan and the late “Colonel” De Stewart. Six months after the unexpected passing of Colonel De, family members are working to ensure the vision of its founder lives on (provided photo).

Sometimes, when the guiding light of a small business passes on, the future of the enterprise suddenly comes into question. But a visit to the world headquarters in Fort Thomas found a venture that has not only survived the death of its founder, but is expanding.

Susan Stewart, De’s wife of 15 years, had been in the background of the business for years, handling the back office work and leaving the face of the company to Colonel De and his trademark mustache. His sudden death in October 2018 at the age of 71 raised questions about what was next.

“He was the passion, the guide, the inspiration for all of this,” Stewart said. “My first initial thought was ‘Oh my god, what are we going to do? How are we going to get through this?’”

But after discussions with family, friends and business partners, the decision was made. “We said yes, we’re going to continue the Colonel’s legacy,” recalled Stewart.

She tightened the purse strings a bit, closing up some storage and warehouse space that was underused.

Then she looked for ways to grow sales. An e-commerce website that was in the works for months went live in February at www.colonelde.com. Now, people from around the world can order arrowroot powder, Baby Tucker’s sweet and sassy meat rub, or any of the hundreds of herbs and spices that are handmade in Fort Thomas.

And in June, the business will expand to Louisville, with the opening of a store at Logan Street Market, a new urban market there. Colonel De’s 35-year-old son, Ashley, will be in charge of the Louisville store.

Colonel De’s son, Ashley Stewart will manage the new store in Louisville’s Logan Street Market. Ashleys wife, Christi, (left) has taken on many of the company’s marketing and social media duties.

The flagship store at Findlay Market continues, as it has since 2006, as does the store at Jungle Jim’s sprawling complex in Eastgate.

The family firm has stepped up its presence on social media, with Ashley’s wife, Christi, handling much of the marketing on Facebook and other platforms.

Susan has been involved in the business since the beginning. She recalls when she and her late husband were dating and sharing dreams about the future, De shared his lifetime goal, to open a store that sells herbs and spices. Susan was not exactly impressed. “I looked at him and said, ‘What’s your second choice?’”

But she believed in the dream and in 2006, they opened the Findlay Market store.

“It’s been gangbusters since then,” she said.

Susan quit a full-time job to devote herself to the business, and it began growing.

About a year ago, they opened a restaurant next to the Fort Thomas headquarters called Colonel’s Kitchen, which serves breakfast and lunch every day and dinners on Friday nights.

After the Colonel’s death, Susan fretted about what to do with their big, three-story, 95-year-old house in Fort Thomas.

It was too spacious for one person to live in and care for. That problem was solved when Ashley, Christi and their two young children decided to move in. A mother-in-law suite for Susan is underway downstairs, ensuring that in this family business, family comes first.

She is planning to transition the operation to the next generation, who will, she hopes, pass it on to their children.

While Colonel De and his big, drooping mustache remain the face and trademark of the business, it’s now firmly in the hands of Susan and her family.

Contact the NorthernKentucky Tribune at news@nkytrib.com

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