Growing up in Aberdeen, Miss., Reginald Kelly wanted more than to be an athlete.
Never mind that Kelly was blessed with a God-given talent that took him to Mississippi State and later to a successful career as a tight end in the NFL.
His parents were blue collar workers who toiled hard to ensure he and his brother were provided for. They passed along that work ethic and a strong sense of values that hasn’t wavered.
The lucrative and rewarding NFL career with the Atlanta Falcons and the Cincinnati Bengals was simply a stepping stone that has allowed him to become husband to childhood sweetheart, Sheila and father to Kyla, 9, and Kavan, 7.
It also has afforded him the means to pursue a career after football and put to use the degree he earned in industrial technology.
In a couple weeks, Kelly’s second career as a food entrepreneur comes to Florida with the launch of his Kyvan food line, expected to be sold in area Hitchcock’s stores right around the Super Bowl.
“Food was never an intentional career choice,” Kelly said last week from his Gwinnett County, Ga. home.
It goes back, he said, to wanting to give back to the community.
Kelly believes in developing and nurturing the body, mind and spirit.
He and his wife have long been charitable givers: food for the elderly, toys and clothing for children.
And football camps.
Kelly reasoned if his talent had been developed in Aberdeen, there just might be another youngster whose talent also needed fostering.
He called on NFL players and coaches to join him in the weeklong camps. He added a mix of average people from the community who had worked hard and succeeded.
“I wanted to show that average people can succeed,” Kelly said, “and you can be effective in whatever arena you are in.”
At the close of the day, all those volunteers needed food and who else to provide it but the Kelly family.
“My wife and family were cooking for the volunteers,” he said, “and they raved. Long after the camp was over and gone back to their homes, they were raving. It was flattering.”
It was his wife who finally said, “Why not give it to them all the time?”
Kyvan (a combination of both children’s names) was born and soon the Kellys were adapting family secret recipes for mass production.
The biggest secret, and perhaps the key ingredient in any Kelly recipe, is love.
“When you cook,” Kelly said, “you have to do it with love.”
The best selling product in the ever-expanding line is Kyvan’s Honey Apple Salsa.
“Rest assured, it’s full of quality ingredients and flavor–just like my children,” he said. “You appreciate the goodness.”
Kelly said his production team doesn’t cut corners and uses only the best ingredients and that’s what sets his salsa apart from the others.
“We don’t want it to be watered down so we make sure that what goes into it is the best,” he said.
And this salsa–while great with tortilla chips–has a score of other uses.
“It’s great on omelettes,” he said. “Or marinate a steak in it. Put it on a pizza.
“I like to put it on top of my meatloaf,” he said. “It’s salsa with soul and once you try it, you’ll fall in love with it.”
The Kellys are sole proprietors of this new venture and they work at it daily.
“We’ve been hands-on from the ground up,” he said, “and we’ve been ing the process. I’m actively involved because I care.”
The main purpose for what he does, he said, is to leave his children a legacy. Not one born solely on money and fame, but one built on hard work, responsibility and honor.
“It’s what my parents gave me,” he said. “It was a privilege to be raised in that family structure. I want to be an inspiration to my kids that way.”
In addition to the salsa, Kyvan also manufactures Honey Apple Butter, Sweet BBQ Sauce, Jambalaya Sauce and Honey.
To learn more about Kelly, his family, his dream and his products, visit kyvan82.com, “Like” them on Facebook or following them on Twitter.
Editor’s Note: We have tried the Honey Apple Salsa and Honey Apple Butter. Next week we’ll share our findings in a Cooking with Caro column.