Built upon a flavor: A.C. Legg celebrates 100 years of business

Published 1:28 pm Thursday, May 11, 2023

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By NOAH WORTHAM | Staff Writer

As you walk into the front door of the office of A.C. Legg, the first thing you notice is the smell of spice in the air.

“Everything in this building smells like sage,” Chief Executive Officer Jim Purvis said. “We process our own sage in this building and that’s why it smells a lot of sage.”

Every day, the members of the Purvis family come to work and breathe in a whole array of spices from all over the world.

“We have stuff coming off six different continents through brokers, and we literally pull it in here and they take a recipe and turn it into a blend,” President Jeff Purvis said.

It’s safe to say that spice is a way of life for the Purvis family.

Chances are, whether you’ve heard the name A.C. Legg before or not, you’ve tried their famous blend of spices.

“If you’ve eaten sausage in the south, you’ve eaten our product at one point,” said Chuck Purvis, executive vice president of A.C. Legg.

The secret to the success of many companies actually begins with the help of A.C. Legg.

“We’re the old sausage maker in the back room that they tell you they have,” Chief Executive Officer Jim Purvis said. “We send the seasoning and they make the product.

Spices are the key to the flavor in any meal that often goes unnoticed.

“Our grandfather, one of the things he always said is, ‘Spice is the part of the formulation that makes the most difference,’” Chuck said.

A century of flavor

On May 11, A.C. Legg celebrated its 100th anniversary of being in business.

“Five out of a 1,000 companies will see 100 years,” A.C. Legg President Jeff Purvis said. “It’s quite a place to be. We’re still wrapping our head around it.”

Jeff shared his reasoning as to why he believes the company has lasted so long.

“We made it to 100 years because as things change we change with some of it,” he said.

A.C. Legg has adapted is model over the years in order to better serve its customers, however, the essence of their product has not changed.

“We changed our model, but at the same time, Blend 10 has never changed,” Chuck said. “We’re not the biggest spice company, spice companies have come since us. There are a lot that are bigger than us (and) there are a lot that are smaller than us. But we are known for quality and service, and we’ve never changed that.”

In order to honor the centennial milestone of the company, the Purvis family decided to do a rebranding of the company’s logo.

“We went back and rebranded and looked at where we were as a company,” Jeff said. “To kind of incorporate back to 1923. We went (with) a little bit more of a timeless logo than where we were.”

Chuck shared that the company also put an accurate copy of A.C. Legg’s signature back on the logo.

“We came up with elements of several different things and made sure to get our tagline (on it) that we were ‘Built Upon a Flavor,” Jeff said.

A.C. Legg held a celebration of reaching 100 years of business on May 5 at the American Village. During the event, the Purvis family expressed their gratitude to those who helped the company along the way and shared the business’s history with those in attendance.

When it came time to share the company’s story with the public, Jeff found a hard time putting the company’s rich history into words.

“How do you tell a story that is not yours to tell,” Jeff said. “There’s an old Greek proverb that goes, ‘A society grows great when old men plant trees they will never sit in the shade of.’ And tonight, me, my family, my colleagues from A.C. Legg are sitting in the shade of a tree that we didn’t plant that was planted 100 hundred years ago in Birmingham, Alabama.”

Humble beginnings

A.C. Legg was founded on May 11, 1923, however, its story begins almost 30 years prior.

In the 1890s, a man by the name of Andrew Caughman Legg went to work for his father at a butcher shop in Birmingham. For decades, they worked together to serve their local community, and over time Legg’s Pork Sausage became synonymous with being the best around.

The secret to their success was due to a special blend of seasonings the Leggs had experimented with and perfected over the years.

In 1913, a man named Joseph Verner Cowart swapped professions from being a banker to starting his own mill supply company. He ran his own business for five years until he eventually saw a greater opportunity.

Cowart became acquainted with Legg and his butcher business between 1st and 2nd Avenue North on 22nd Street. Over time, he deduced that the secret behind the business’s success lie not in the quality of the meat but in the unique blend of spices the family had perfected.

After reaching an agreement, the A.C. Legg Packing Company was founded by A.C. Legg, J.V. Cowart and Leon Cole with the goal of distributing Legg’s famous sausage seasoning to other butchers, sausage makers and families all over the country.

A.C. Legg Packaging Company shipped its first barrel of Blend 10 seasonings on Dec. 8, 1923 to Jonesboro, Arkansas.

Foundation of a flavor

The foundation for the new business became Legg’s special Blend 10, a recipe that was the 10th revision of Legg and his father’s sausage seasoning that they had used for years.

“It is the flavor that our company is built upon and we still sell it today,” Jeff said.

Chuck described the taste of the blend as southern pork sausage seasoning with a full sage flavor.

“I like to joke around that that’s the grandfather of all sausage seasonings,” Director of Purchasing Jamie Purvis said. “Everything that you’ve probably eaten is built off that base and somebody’s customized it to their flavor profiles.”

The long-lasting success of the flavor can be credited to one thing, according to Jim.

“We use quality ingredients,” he said. “ We use the best sage we can buy, the best black pepper, the best salt.”

The company receives its spice ingredients pre-processed from all over the world, but it treats sage differently.

“We could get it already ground but we don’t do that because the sage starts losing some of its potency as soon as it’s ground,” Chuck said. “That’s kind of our secret sauce. The sage makes all the difference.”

Change in management

Despite leaving such a long-lasting legacy, A.C. Legg was not with the company for long.

He sold his stake in the newly formed A.C. Legg Packaging Company to Cowart in 1925 and retired to south Georgia where he experimented with growing sage.

Cowart took over the company and brought in O.R. Dunn as a partner. Over the next seven years, A.C. Legg Packaging Company grew from a first-year revenue of $10,000 to more than $1,000,000 in 1931. The company even grew during the Great Depression and had a presence in every state through its many salesman.

A.C. Legg Packaging company outgrew its original location in 1935 and moved to 2319 First Avenue North in Birmingham where it remained until 2001.

Jeff’s grandfather, Charles W. Purvis was hired in 1936 and began working in the office. Over the years, he made himself indispensable to the company’s success and eventually became the general manager in charge of day-to-day operations.

In 1946, Cowart sold his interest in the company to the business’s salesman, including the sales manager Paul Blanchard and Charles. Over time, Blanchard acquired nearly all the stock except the shares held by Charles.

Blanchard then sold the company to his son, Jerry, in the 1950’s who saw the company’s production double over time. Jeff was later diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Unsure of when he would pass away, that led to the handshake deal that transitioned the business to the Purvis family, passing the torch to Charles W. Purvis.

“Mr. Blanchard turned to my grandfather and basically said, ‘Hey, you’ve been with me all this time, we don’t have any children that are going to take this place over. We’re going to sell our stock to you upon my wife’s death. When I die, I want you to run the company,’” Jeff said.

Jeff Blanchard died in 1975 and his wife, Elizabeth took over the company before her death in 1977. After a short legal dispute, Charles took over A.C. Legg in 1979.

“My father had worked all his life and put all his life in the business,” Jim said.

A member of the Purvis family has run A.C. Legg ever since.

A new home

Over time, A.C. Legg continued to develop and outgrew its location in Birmingham, making it time to find a new home for the business.

“We were faced with a difficult decision in the late ‘90s,” Jeff said. “Do you sit there and look and grow or do you sell? My dad made the decision along with his siblings that were in the company and my grandmother—to grow.”

Eventually, they found a spot in Calera in Shelby County.

“My dad (Jim) did a lot of searching and Calera rolled out the red carpet and made us feel important and we moved to Shelby County,” Jeff said.

Construction on the new location began in 2000 and the company officially moved to Calera on September 10, 2001.

The previous location in Birmingham is now known as Legg Loft and has been preserved after becoming a registered national historic site. Despite the time that has passed, the location still reflects all those years of business.

“On a strong summer day, they tell us that when the heats out and the floors breathe, you still smell sage,” Jeff said.