Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Spice & Nobody Nice

Ed dribbles pepper sauce on nearly any food that’s not a fruit or desert. It reddens his morning scrambles eggs, spices up my already hot chili, and soaks into the fixings of my tuna noodle casserole. Heinz ketchup is all you’ll find me using sparingly to add a bit of flavor to food, but never in chili or tuna noodle. Because of this ever present bottle of Tobasco and our household loyalty to pepper sauce goes to McIlhenny Company, I was keen on touring the factory on Avery Island while we visited the state of Louisiana.

I guess I set my expectations too high as I smiled and posed outside the entrance to the factory tour. My smile weakened soon. Ed and I waited in a line that snaked around to a small movie theater. The sign when we entered this Reception Area promised the next tour would begin at 10:25 AM. No one bothered to update chalkboard sign as we continued to wait in a line that inched along for nearly an hour. While in line, I memorized the narration of the videos playing on the televisions mounted overhead in the Historical Gallery. When we were finally greeted by a representative of the factory, she mumbled her rehearsed speech, handed us some tiny product samples and told us to exit the Theater at the end of two videos. The eight-minute long video did give some history and information on production. The second video was strong on marketing. I’d classify the latter as a commercial for prime time TV. In the Viewing Gallery, we didn’t see extensive the factory production, just more displays and artifacts.

I didn’t feel any sense of welcome or pleasure from the four “hostesses” in the Country Store. They mechanically filled taste cups with pepper sauce flavored soft ice cream and chili. They replenished the pretzels for dipping into the chipotle, green pepper, and more sample flavors of pepper sauce. I nibbled and chatted with other visitors about their reactions to the tastes. I didn’t see our hostesses chatting or engaging visitors.

As we left the Pepper Sauce Factory, my loyalty to the brand remained but I felt disappointed in the tour and the lack of hospitality. So on a scale of best (4 stars) to worst (1 star) factory tours, let me comment:

Anheuser Busch Brewery in St. Louis, MO is outstanding with friendly, informative guides, photo opportunities, much to see, and generous samples – 4 stars

Zippo/Case Visitor Center in Bradford, PA is fabulous; watch repairs on this warranty backed lighters and see one that saved a soldier’s life by deflecting a combat bullet – 4 stars

Crayola Crayons in Easton, PA is good for kids, fun for adults, bright and interactive – 3 stars

Dr. Pepper Museum in Waco, TX is interesting if you’re a chemist or student of commercials and ads; don’t expect a taste of this classic beverage – 2 stars

Tabasco Pepper Sauce on Avery Island, LA is disappointing, skip the tour and just keep the product on the table – 1 star.

If you have visited any of these places, let me know how you’d rate them.

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