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Quail Ridge Press finds recipe for sweet success

Brandon — It is somewhat ironic that Quail Ridge Press, which started on a kitchen table, has grown into a successful publishing company primarily by getting its books on, yes, kitchen tables. Known for its regional and specialty cookbooks, Quail Ridge has expanded its offering of authors and titles over its history that goes back to the 1970s, and it has now sold millions of books all over the nation and the world.

“Oh, yes, my expectations have been met,” said Barney McKee, co-founder and publisher of Quail Ridge. “It’s turned out quite well.”

It would seem quite well, indeed. Quail Ridge has published approximately 160 titles, of which approximately 120 are still in print. Its flagship Best of the Best State Cookbook Series alone has sold approximately two million copies, while the Recipe Hall of Fame Collection has garnered sales of approximately one million copies.

All of this is more impressive when considering the company’s meager beginnings. A native of Baton Rouge, La., Barney McKee left home to study graphic arts in Chicago. He worked in the Windy City for a while, but grew homesick. Looking for an opportunity close to home, he hired on with LSU Press, where he would stay until 1971.

In the meantime, University Press of Mississippi had been established in Hattiesburg, and McKee did some work for the then fledgling organization on a free lance basis. But the company needed full-time help, and McKee decided to come on board. He would stay with University Press through 1987, following it when it relocated to Jackson, and eventually was made the organization’s director.

It was here that Quail Ridge was established. Barney’s wife, Gwen, had come across a small manuscript called “The Twelve Days of Christmas Cookbook” by Ruth Moorman and Lulla Williams. Both McKees thought the work had merit, though it was not the type work University Press usually published. So, Barney encouraged Gwen to pick it up and run with it. Published in October 1978, the cookbook sold above everyone’s expectations. (More than a quarter of a century later, it is still in print.)

With that, Quail Ridge was born, named for the street on which the McKees lived in Brandon. (Quail Ridge would not move out of the McKees’ home until the late 1980s.) In 1987, Barney left University Press to work full-time at Quail Ridge.

Growth remained steady at Quail Ridge until 1996, when the company’s horizons broadened suddenly and sales mushroomed. Gwen, who now serves as editor-in-chief, was invited to appear on the QVC home shopping network to showcase the Best of the Best State Cookbook Series. The 1,800 copies went in a matter of seconds.

“Gwen had decorated this table with all this beautiful food — she had really prepared — and she was upset that she was cut short,” Barney remembered with a smile. “When you sell out on QVC, you’re done. I had to remind her that the reason why we were there was to sell the books, which we did in less than two minutes. It had a major impact on us.”

Since then, Gwen has made more than 100 appearances on QVC. She has sold in excess of 400,000 copies of the “Best of the Best” series and “Hall of Fame” collection, a group of cookbooks developed by Quail Ridge for QVC even though the home shopping network has in-house publishing capabilities, a testament to Quail Ridge’s forte in publishing quality cookbooks.

Those books remain the corner stone of Quail Ridge’s sales. The “Hall of Fame” collection now includes four separate titles. But perhaps the biggest news of late is that Quail Ridge has completed the “Best of the Best” series — all 50 states are now represented. Gwen and associate editor Barbara Moseley had been working on the project since the early 1980s.

“Regardless of what we do in the future, we set out to collect, capture and celebrate the food of America on a state-by-state basis, and that mission has been accomplished,” Gwen said. “We did it!”

The Quail Ridge portfolio now contains numerous cookbooks, but the company offers much more. These include children’s titles (of which Laurie Parker’s works are steady sellers), regional titles including Coast resident George Thatcher’s “Scenes from the Beach” and “Beach Walks” and inspirational titles. Others don’t fit a category, such as “Ghosts!” by Sylvia Booth Hubbard and the “Mississippi Mystery Series” by Phil Hardwick. A complete listing of the company’s books and other services and offerings can be found at http://www.quailridge.com/.

Quail Ridge is continually going after new authors and books. Barney said the company looks to publish five to seven new books each year. But new titles make up only approximately 25% of Quail Ridge’s sales, which is unique among publishers. The company has a healthy roster of time-proven books, and that allows the company to publish works that may not necessarily be best sellers.

“I choose manuscripts mostly by gut feeling,” Barney said. “If I read it, and I like it, I want to publish it. We are now in a position to publish books that do not necessarily have to produce. We publish them because we like them.
“I feel the key to our success is that we produce a good product and back it up with superior customer service. We have a solid reputation and our books are admired. It is very satisfying.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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