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Minnesotan To Meet: Barbara Jo Davis

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- As children, many of you probably flipped through that Betty Crocker cookbook in your mother's kitchen. But did you ever dream of actually being Betty Crocker?

Barbara Jo Davis did. It's where cooking in the kitchen took her that makes Barbara Jo Davis a Minnesotan to Meet.

"I saw my first Betty Crocker cook book and I told my mom I'm going to be Betty Crocker someday," Barbara Jo Davis said.

The longtime Eden Prairie resident hoped to one day develop her own Betty Crocker brand.

"This was in the '50s, and she (my mom) said, 'You don't see any black people in the picture, do you?' 'No,' but things may change," she said.

After graduating with a dietetics degree, she interned in Washington, D.C. and then spent three years in a heart research center in Dayton, Ohio. But Davis knew she wanted more.

"I said to myself, 'Self, you're more interested in how it looks, tastes, than how it is in terms of nutrition,'" Davis said.

Finally, she pushed for the job her mom once said she likely would never have.

"I wrote to General Mills, interviewed and, sure enough, I was hired on the spot," Davis said.

She started as a home economist, and that was the beginning of her 20-year career in the Betty Crocker kitchens.

"We made sure that products that went out to the public worked in other people's test kitchens," Davis said.

Davis worked on all kinds of notable food products: Gold Medal Flour, Bisquick, cereal, Hamburger Helper. Her last job before she left was the manager of cookbooks.

"I used to like to bake, but after 20 years in the Betty Crocker kitchen you have to coerce me," she said.

From baked goods to something with a little kick, she got a job that brought her love in a place she least expected. A man named Ken Davis was looking to perfect his grandmother's BBQ sauce recipe. Barbara Jo, the expert, was called in to cook it up.

"He was told to hire a home economist. He said, (Ken Davis) I want you to come and look at my BBQ sauce," she said, and that's exactly what she did. "I had the secret recipe. He had two choices: he could either kill me or marry me, and luckily he decided to marry me."

The couple married in 1973 and her husband's business, Ken Davis BBQ Sauce, took off. In 1988, she joined the company. Three years later her husband died, and Barbara Davis was forced to take over.

"I had three jobs: General Mills, BBQ sauce, and the household. It was scary. I didn't know all the intimate details of the business, but I had a lot of help."

Barbara Jo Davis finally developed that cookbook she always wanted, a publication where she wrote and developed recipes. Seven years ago she sold the business and says there's no looking back.

"Like all the jobs I had in my life, it's something I did, but I don't miss it," she said.

Barbara Jo Davis is enjoying retirement. Later this year she'll be inducted into the Minnesota Women Business Owners' Hall of Fame.

"I'm not one of those people that said in five years I'm going to do this," she said. "I just lived my life and didn't think I had do anything extraordinary."

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