Eat and Drink the Paunchy Way
The McKay family’s love and laughter infuse Paunchy Elephant’s sauces and beverages.
BY ERIKA OLSON
Tamyra McKay’s mom Wanda asked her for help. Wanda was getting ready to retire from the Olympia School District, and thought it would be fun to figure out how to sell the bbq sauce that she’d been making for years.
She had been wanting to sell her sauce at stores. All of the kids had gotten older, moved away, gotten jobs, Tamyra recalls.
“She came to me and asked, why don’t you take a break for a while and help me? And I thought, OK, I can do some research and figure out what’s involved. Turns out, there’s a lot involved,” she says, laughing.
It took about five years from that initial conversation to eventually get a bottled product on a store shelf. Fast- forward to today: the company they launched in 2011, called Paunchy Elephant, is a social purpose corporation operating from a commercial kitchen in Marysville.
“We had a hard time finding a commercial kitchen space. We eventually found a certified organic kitchen in Marysville that had been recently vacated, and the previous company left a bunch of equipment behind. The owner wanted to get the space rented, so we agreed to take the space as is, and spent a lot of nights and weekends making improvements. We’re still in that space today,” McKay explains.
Marysville is known for its Strawberry Festival; in a fun coincidence, the McKays are originally from a small town in Louisiana, called Ponchatoula, also known for its strawberry festival. So when they found kitchen space in Marysville, it seemed meant to be.
My mom said, I think it’s a sign! McKay recalls, laughing.
Paunchy Elephant’s premium iced teas, fruit-infused lemonades, and sauces are sold online and through retail locations across the Puget Sound area. Sustainability is a consideration from start to finish. Ingredients are certified organic and fair trade. No additives, preservatives, artificial flavors, or colors are used. Everything’s packaged in glass bottles and labels are printed with water-based ink. Excess produce is donated and food waste is composted.
Wanda McKay’s original sauce, the catalyst for the company’s launch, remains one of Paunchy Elephant’s best-selling items. It’s a thick, sweet, tomato-based sauce with a distinct tang. Ginger, allspice, and cloves add warmth to the gluten-free version.
We hope people feel fulfilled when they purchase our products – full and happy…
Choose from sweetened or unsweetened teas – all refreshing, balanced, straightforward flavors. The herbal vanilla rooibos, for example, is sweet but not syrupy. Lemonades are tart and fruity – clearly fresh lemon juice, not lemon flavoring – with that elusive “sweet, but not too sweet” delivery. The blackberry lemonade calls to mind a hot August Pacific Northwest afternoon.
Love and purpose are at the center of the business.
It’s family owned and operated, with Tamyra and her mom, Wanda, taking the lead, and her siblings and dad involved, too. As they say on their website, Paunchy Elephant “aims to pass forward the love and laughter our family enjoys when spending time together over meals.” The whimsical little elephant in the logo is a nod to McKay’s parents, who have collected elephant artwork for years. In Western cultures and in feng shui, the trunk-up pose is considered good luck. “It’s kind of a visual of our family. I wanted to make it playful,” McKay says.
I came up with the idea of making him portly, if you will. Kind of a fat, brightly-colored elephant that would stand out on a shelf when people saw it.
And the McKays wanted to pair that playful look with some serious topics, like sustainability and social responsibility.
“When you buy something, you want to think that the money you’re spending with that company – that you’re trusting them with – that they’re taking that money and paying people fairly. That they’re responsibly handling any kind of waste that they’re producing. A lot of times, unfortunately that’s just not the case. Our product tastes good, the packaging looks nice, but also, you know we’re doing good things with the money you spend,” McKay explains.
Paunchy Elephant is investing back into the environment and community.
“We’re just really trying to be more part of the community that we work in, rather than just taking up space and making money for our own gain,” McKay says. “We hope people feel fulfilled when they purchase our products – full and happy with what they’re consuming, and also feeling good about supporting a business that’s paying fair wages, composting, and donating to good causes.”
Paunchy Elephant aims to pass forward the love and laughter our family enjoys when spending time together over meals.
Paunchy Elephant products can be ordered online at PaunchyElephant.com or found in retail locations, including Made in Washington’s Pike Place location (sauce and beverages), Bellevue and Lynnwood locations (sauce only); QFC’s Kirkland Urban location; Issaquah Coffee Company; Rubinstein Bagels in Seattle; Boon Boona Café in Renton; Pickled and Preserved in Burien; and Tacoma Boys in Tacoma. ✦