From an inauspicious beginning on Barney and Gwen McKee’s dining room table, Quail Ridge Press has grown and is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In 1978, the name for the fledgling publishing enterprise came from its address on Quail Ridge Road in Brandon. It began as a cookbook publisher. Today, there’s a lot going on at the busy publishing house as it branches into other types of books.
“It’s been a really good 30 years and we’re real proud of Quail Ridge Press,” Gwen said. “The growth is from a combination of passion to put out really good products and hard work.”
It all began when Barney, who was director of University Press of Mississippi (UP) at the time, came home with a cookbook manuscript the UP couldn’t publish. Gwen, who loves to cook and has a journalism background, thought “The Twelve Days of Christmas Cookbook” was too clever to go unpublished. Thus, Quail Ridge Press was born.
“It was exciting when we got the first cookbook published,” Barney said. “I always had a love of publishing and dreamed of having my own company.”
Both McKees are Louisiana State University graduates and were reared in the cooking traditions of the Pelican State. For eight year’s Barney worked at LSU Press as a designer and production person. They have now found their niche as publishers of cookbook and regional non-fiction works in Mississippi.
“Cookbooks are something a lot of people like,” Gwen says. “Cookbooks stay around a long time and are used over and over.”
For nine years, Barney stayed on with UP and Quail Ridge Press stayed on the kitchen table with Gwen working at it part time. Books were warehoused in the garage. At its 10th anniversary, the business moved into the back of a Brandon seed store.
Out of the house
“We kept taking up the owner’s space, so we had to build our own building. We now have a lovely office and 10 employees who are devoted and committed to the company,” Gwen said. “We have a lot of blessings.”
She points out that anyone calling Quail Ridge Press talks to a real person. The McKees enjoy being in touch with customers.
The first non-cookbooks published were Mississippi State/Ole Miss and New Orleans Saints joke books.
“We started diversifying more when Barney came on board full time,” Gwen said. “We started a series of art books with a book of Wyatt Waters’ paintings. That was followed by Miriam Weems’ colorful ‘Mostly Mississippi’ book of paintings.”
Next in the art series is “Delta Dreamin’” by Gary Walters. The book of vibrant watercolors of Delta scenes will debut in September. “It takes you to the Delta,” Gwen said. “The paintings are beautiful.”
The McKees hope to do an art book each year, and are on the lookout for other books to publish in addition to cookbooks. Quail Ridge Press will soon publish the fourth book in a series of “Beach Walks” by George Thatcher of Gulfport.
‘Eyes and ears are open’
“Cookbooks are our forté, and we will always do them,” Gwen said, “but our eyes and ears are open for books we need to publish. We have no formula. We do not publish poetry and fiction. We will stick with cookbooks and regional non-fiction. That’s our niche.”
The Brandon company continues to gain momentum from appearances on the TV shopping network QVC. Gwen began selling books on QVC 11 years ago with live on-air appearances for approximately eight minutes each session. The current book on consignment with QVC is “Five Hundred Fast and Fabulous 500 Five Star 5 Ingredient Recipes.” The next cookbook to go on sale there is “Fast and Fabulous Party Foods & Appetizers.”
“Selling on QVC has been successful, and we’re fortunate to be on there,” Gwen said. “Sales there are 30% to 40% of our business.”
As for the future of books and the publishing industry, Barney is optimistic. “The book is in great shape even though electronics are around,” he says. “People still want the look and feel of a book. Small publishers like us have benefited from the Internet. It gives us a better way to connect with the whole country and sell books.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.