“Home” for most of us seldom refers to a physical structure. It is a feeling of belonging, comfort and familiarity. Some find this feeling in a place, others in a person or group of people. It is common for Southerners especially, however, to find that home feeling in a plate of food. It was this well-known fact that inspired the folks behind Billy’s Original Foods to take a leap of faith and realize their vision of sharing their family recipes through freezer meals that taste home-cooked.
Mani Chanprasith Hairston, the company’s co-founder and business guru, was a fan of Billy’s Original Foods from the get-go. She was first introduced to Billy’s almost ten years ago after moving to Mississippi from New York City in 2009. “I was the marketing director for the shopping center where the former restaurant was located and knew right away that Billy’s recipes needed to be shared,” she says.
It wasn’t until six years later that Mani’s vision became reality. In late 2015, Mani co-founded Billy’s Original Foods with Billy and Robin Lieberman, a husband-and-wife team who had owned the Italian dive restaurant in Vicksburg for about 15 years, and Cook Investments, who financed a part of the operations.
Over the course of one year, Billy’s Original Foods was converted from its origins as a mom-and-pop restaurant to a full-blown manufacturing company. In keeping with its roots, Billy’s specializes in Italian-inspired frozen entrees. A few highlights include their Meatballs with Sauce & Cheese, which have a sharply defined taste and texture that is dramatically different than its competitors in the frozen food aisles, and the Lasagna with Meat & Sauce, which has been complimented as being “better than my Mama’s.”
While the Liebermans mastered the recipes, Mani came up with the business plan and sought out buyers. She left her job to become a part owner in the brand-new start up, investing countless resources – including her expertise in marketing and finance – to introduce the brand to markets outside of Mississippi.
“To ensure our success, I’ve traveled to more than twenty states throughout the country, meeting with executives in the C-suites of some of the largest corporations in America – Walmart, Kroger, Lipari and Target to name a few – in addition to smaller, independent one-off groceries,” says Mani. “Ironically, I’ve even met in freezers in stores just to get the face-time I needed with a decision-maker to close a deal.”
With that kind of tenacity, it comes as no surprise that Mani recently secured a deal with Target, making Billy’s Original Foods the first Mississippi company to be sold in Target groceries. In addition to Target, Billy’s Original Foods products can be found in Walmart and Kroger stores throughout the Southeast as well as in independent groceries in Mississippi.
“I’m grateful for insightful business partners and a very supportive family,” says Mani. “Some days are tougher than others juggling between home and work and home and work again, but the success of the company and the happiness of my family make it all worthwhile.”