"The kitchen is the gathering place where thoughtfully prepared foods can break-down barriers." Susie Coiner
Shopping malls were big in the 80’s but in the following decade, they were huge. In the early 90’s, Dawahare’s department store opened inside Kentucky Oaks Mall in Paducah, Kentucky. Dawahare’s was a fourth generation family owned business founded in 1907 by S.F. Dawahare, a native of Syria, who began as a peddler in the coal camps of Eastern Kentucky (Lexington Herald Leader). At the time of its heyday, the company owned 40 stores in KY, TN, Ohio, and W. Virginia.
During the expansion, Susie was in California working at Ann Taylor as a manager in training. Ann Taylor apparel was known in the 80’s and 90's for the power suit and tailored clothing worn by career women across the U.S. and eventually 100 countries worldwide. A. F. Dawahare, Susie's father asked Susie to return to Kentucky to manage the Paducah location. She was the perfect person for the job bringing style and grace to the western Kentucky market.
A graduate from the University of Kentucky with a Bachelor’s degree in merchandising, apparel, and textiles, Susie accepted the challenge and moved to Quilt City USA to join the family business.
Susie’s father was a firm believer in community involvement. Part of her task as manager of the Paducah Dawahare’s, as well as, overseer of store locations from Pikeville to Paducah was to engage citizens. “We want you to put a good footprint in the community,” said Susie’s dad. So, she got on several local boards and found out quickly that many of the conversations revolved around BBQ.
As she ventured out to honor her father's request the goal was to grow the business. In her search for creating positivity within the market, Susie kept hearing chatter that revolved around questions like ‘What’s your favorite BBQ?’ And, everyone had an opinion. In the meantime, local charities would come by the store asking for donations. “There were so many agencies that needed funding,” said Susie. Then came the 'Aha' moment.
Growing up in Lexington, Susie enjoyed going to the chili cook-off at the Lexington Red Mile. If you're unfamiliar with The Red Mile on Red Mile Road, its home to gaming, horse racing, seasonal festivals and food contests like the chili cook-off.
While attending an event at Paducah's Blue Grass Downs horse racing track, Susie had the 'Aha' moment. The ‘Aha’ translated into BBQ which soon unfolded into one of the biggest, if not the biggest festival in western Kentucky.
BBQ on the River in Paducah, KY
One year after embracing our little town, Susie was set-up on a blind date with Andrew Coiner. The matchmaker was Chris Black owner of Ray Black & Son, a leading construction company that's nearing 100 years old. Coiner was a local attorney and on the Main Street Board. One of the first things the couple realized they had in common was love of community.
Susie said, “That night, we attended a Market House Theater play, Camelot. Then, we went to Jeremiah’s restaurant where we watched the O.J. Simpson chase on television.” On that date, they discussed the idea of the BBQ festival. “Andrew was very encouraging. I had him at BBQ,” said Susie.
Not too far down the road, the First Ever BBQ on the River had its debut in 1995 with 16 vendors. Fast forward twenty-five years and the festival has grown to a whopping 70 food vendors and 80 non-food vendors. Susie remains president of the organization and, in case you wondered, is still unsure what lies ahead for the fundraiser in 2021.
Professionally, Susie’s life was on the right track. Her philanthropic projects were underway; projects that met with her father's expectations. The next move, and possibly her biggest, was marrying Andrew. The two wed in 1996 and started life as this beautiful, educated, community-focused power couple.
A few years down the road, as if life couldn’t get any sweeter, their daughter Lilly was born. “Andrew and I would butt heads about every single thing except Lilly. She was the one constant of which we both agreed.” And that one constant paid off. Lilly is in the process of finishing up school at the University of Alabama and will be going to law school in the fall. “She’s often described herself as being her dad’s ‘soul mate’. Being the best teacher for Lilly was always the goal of Susie and Andrew.
In the mid 2000’s, Susie began to ‘do her own thing’ outside of the company. She started a consulting business to help other businesses sell goods, advertise, connect with the community, and develop their brand. Due to a slow-down in mall traffic across America, Dawahare’s closed all of its stores in 2008.
Susie was about to make another business move that would encompass aspects of both her professional and personal life. “Andrew was always encouraging about every single business idea,” said Susie. With that said, she founded BBQ & More.
“I fell in love with the building,” said Susie. The BBQ & More building really spoke to Susie. One of its special features is the horse and carriage commerce and mercantile area in the back of the building. To capitalize on the space, plans are in the works for an 'open air market.'
Susie said the outside space will be an extension of the interior of the business offering more fun ways to shop. The new products will coordinate with all of the other fabulous lines the store carries. The goal is to enrich the lives of customers. "I adore my customers and think about them every step of the way!" said Susie.
The test kitchen inside BBQ & More was inspired by William Sonoma and Cracker Barrel. “Carol Gault was a big part of the ‘push’ to include the kitchen,” said Susie. The space is actually a licensed restaurant. The idea behind the test kitchen is so the ‘customer can sample and taste whatever they are buying.’
Andrew and Susie were both passionate about food. “He was always so supportive,” she said. "He did say to keep the store manned-up.”
One of the marketing tools Susie used for the business was a website/blog called ‘Susie in the Black;' it started about two-and-a-half years ago. Then, life happened. A trilogy of events sent Susie’s world spiraling. First, her dad became ill and passed away. Second, a trusted employee stole a large sum of money from the BBQ on the River account. Third, Andrew had a stroke and passed away.
Susie said, “My life was derailed.” Obviously, she had to do something quick. After all, Lilly needed her and so many others. So, she started journaling and meditating at least three minutes a day. She said, “One of my philosophies that helps me stay out of a crappy situation is to get out of the negative spiral as quickly as possible. The longer you stay down the rabbit hole the harder it is to get out.”
'That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.' Friedrich Nietzsche
“I feel myself growing everyday,” said Susie. “My mom is amazing and encourages me. I believe in leading with good intent of what you want to happen, and if you do the hard work, it will turn out the way it’s supposed to.”
“Lilly had such an amazing relationship with her dad and I’m so thankful for that,” said Susie. Mom and daughter are working hard to stay positive and ahead of the curve. Much of the family lives in Lexington and Lilly hopes to attend law school somewhere in the vicinity. Having family support is so important to Susie and there’s a good number of loving family members around the Lexington area.
BBQ & More is more than just a brick and mortar business for Susie. The spirit behind the business is buying local when possible with the highest quality products available. She said, “We have the most wonderful customers in the world.” Loyal customers that receive top-notch customer service, exceptional quality products, and the opportunity to shop online with a storefront location to boot, will succeed there’s no doubt with Susie Coiner at the helm.
Susie in the Black, a website - blog emphasizing daily profitability; literally and figuratively