Matt Vandergriff was traveling in western Kentucky when he happened upon a restaurant that sold strawberry butter.
"When I got home I looked everywhere for something similar, but I couldn't find anything," he said. "I guess that's how Chattanooga Butter got started."
What began as a hobby quickly spread to over 20 locations in the area, with the 2-year-old business's products in stores including Earth Fare, area Ace Hardwares and Riverside Wine and Spirits. And locals have a taste for the unique butter blends — the niche food provider has nearly 20,000 followers on its social media channels.
The butter is a unique blend of imported grass fed butter, coconut oil and spices. The coconut oil, in addition to adding a healthier component to the butter, also aids in the texture, making it much more smooth and spreadable, said Vandergriff.
But the biggest reason his butter is the better choice, Vandergriff explained, is because other brands pump their products with chemicals and bad-for-you oils, like hydrogenated vegetable oil. While the presence of such oils allows the butter to travel in summer heat and have a startlingly lengthy shelf life, the trans-fats in them are linked to heart disease, stroke and diabetes, among other chronic diseases. Meanwhile, the saturated fats in coconut oil have been shown to promote energy, speed up metabolism and help cholesterol levels.
Not only are the health benefits more desirable than other store-bought butters, but the flavor choices are wide-ranging. The inaugural flavor was, of course, strawberry, but seeing that initial flavor well-received by taste-testing family and friends, Vandergriff soon expanded to cater to other palates.
"The sweet tea butter is another popular one," he said. "It has even been featured in a dish at Bald Headed Bistro in Cleveland. The chef there is a personal friend of mine."
The gourmet farm-to-table restaurant just northeast of Chattanooga is nationally acclaimed with an eclectic grouping of entrees. At any given time, meats like bison and elk might be on the menu.
"The chef sautéed Brussels sprouts in duck fat and finished it off by adding our sweet tea butter. I have traveled the whole world, and it's one of the top three things I've ever tasted," Vandergriff said, adding, "If I could highlight anything about our business it would be our cooking butters. Of course our sweet, fruity spreads for breads and pastries are popular, but I want people to know about all the other possibilities."
Chattanooga Butter Company offers dozens of flavors — like maple candied bacon butter and Sriracha, shallot and scallion butter — and keeps a running list of potential test flavors at all times. Vandergriff said he's also hoping to partner with a spice shop in Franklin, Tenn., to generate some new flavor ideas.
"People approach me with new ideas all the time," he said. "We just keep testing them until they are perfect."
Next to join the menu is a new butter called "Nashville Hot Chicken," which Vandergriff hopes will spread the product to an even wider audience.
To learn more about the company, its products and where to buy them, visit chattanoogabutter.com. Chattanooga Butter's Instagram, @chattanoogabutter, also offers recipes and restaurant features.