A few years ago, former NFL player turned food entrepreneur Reggie Kelly saw boxing legend and businessman George Foreman speak at a church event. The 1995 Aberdeen High School graduate is somewhat following in Foreman’s footsteps, most recently being named to Forbes magazine’s annual Next 1,000 Entrepreneurs list and having the opportunity to entertain an audience through Weight Watchers Reimagined’s “Get Cooking: Tailgating Edition.”

“When you think about George Foreman, he has such a personality and a presence about himself that is entertaining and he has a killer smile. It seems like such a personality that it draws people to him. He uses that experience in food and uses the full opportunity.

“He’s such a nice guy and has such a historic past. He used everything that he experienced in his life from a kid to now and conveyed it so eloquently to the point where it encouraged people to be the very best version of themselves as they could be,” he said.

From lessons learned at an early age in not leaning on just one talent and building on an established name provided by football, Kelly launched his hot sauce and salsa company, Kyvan, several years ago.

Last month’s opportunities followed appearances last October on home shopping networks, QVC and HSN, to showcase the company.

Reflecting on success, Kelly encourages people to use their God-given talents to be the best they can be.

“I don’t think we should put a box around ourselves and say, ‘I’m only an athlete or only an author or only a preacher.’ God has given you different gifts and talents, and I think He has given us all gifts and talents to put on display so we can be a light for others to follow,” he said.

Continually diversifying

After graduating from AHS, Kelly went on to play football for Mississippi State, followed by 13 seasons in the NFL for the Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals. He and his wife, Sheila, found success after his NFL career through Kyvan, which is named after their son.

“So many times, people may compartmentalize who they are. I never wanted to be just in that mode. My grandma used to always tell me, ‘Baby, don’t ever put all your eggs in one basket.’ I grew up next to my grandmother and what she was telling me was any gift you have, use it. Just don’t focus on one thing that you can do, especially when the good Lord has given you multiple gifts and multiple talents,” he said.

He thinks the recent exposure through Forbes and Weight Watchers helps give Kyvan even more validity.

“It was such an honor and such a treat to be featured in Forbes. They’re looking for innovative entrepreneurs making a splash in the industry, and I’m grateful they selected me,” Kelly said. “This is a platform that’s known all around the globe. It’s a brand that represents entrepreneurs and represents excellence to the fullest and I never dreamed I’d be recognized on this platform.

“Anytime your name or brand can be linked to valid platforms like a Forbes or Weight Watchers or Whole Foods, Kroger or Walmart and companies that are doing things the right way and have a reputation of excellence, it brings more exposure to your brand.”

He was approached by the NFL Trust about the Weight Watchers opportunity to cook recipes in front of an audience.

“Weight Watchers was looking for an athlete who understands the culinary part of the industry they’re in as a healthy lifestyle and is entertaining all wrapped up in one, and they thought I was the best fit for that,” Kelly said.

He used three Weight Watchers recipes for Cajun broiled shrimp, creamy guacamole and pepperoni and mushroom pizza bites with Kyvan sauce and salsa through the appearance.

“I was about having a great time and entertaining them by talking about football, tailgating and the season. I tried to mix my good old southern charm with my knowledge of the food industry and healthy eating, along with our innovative products, and it made for a great partnership,” he said.

While Weight Watchers has more than 10,000 recipes, Kelly hopes the experience will lead to more opportunities of getting Kyvan on the company’s platform.

“I’ve always considered myself a sponge where I learn as much as I can, especially with companies that have been there and done that. If I can associate myself with companies like that and learn from their leadership and example, it will help me as owner of my company for it to grow to the extent I want it to grow,” he said.

Utilizing down time

Earlier in the pandemic, the Kelly family not only had more downtime together but also opportunities to figure out how they would focus on their business. While there were disadvantages such as restaurant customers closing their doors for good, there were advantages such as building Kyvan’s online presence and even the launch of a new company.

“We did everything we could to make our product juicier and make them want to purchase our products online. That became very pivotal to where QVC and HSN gave us an opportunity to get on their platforms, and orders started flowing from left to right,” he said. “If we’d just thrown in the towel and not made an adjustment, then we would’ve been left behind and you can’t do that.”

While Kelly realizes the next generation is always paying attention, entrepreneurship is rubbing off in his own household.

His 17-year-old daughter, Kyla, approached him last year with the idea of starting a skin and hair care line together, which led to the launch of Kyvan Body Essentials.

“We went to the lab, as I like to call it, started formulating some lip balm formulas and shampoo formulas and some lotions for our skin,” he said. “In a year’s time, we have national distribution with our lip balm. For me, that’s not a story for me trying to bring light on my business but more so a story for anyone out there facing adversity that there’s something good that can come out of it.”

Kyla had an opportunity to present Kyvan Body Essentials to Walmart corporate buyers earlier this year and is awaiting a second meeting, which Reggie said is usually a good sign.

“I know life can get tough. I know that life is not always ideal. I know we go through some difficulties throughout our lives but I do think all things work together for the good of our Lord and those called upon His purpose,” he said, adding Kyla’s experience fulfills a purpose.

While one opportunity continually leads to another for the Kelly family, Reggie still lives by his personal philosophy when things don’t go the way he wants.

“When one person tells me, ‘No,’ I flip it around and use no as an acronym. ‘You told me, ‘No,’ but no means the next opportunity,” he said. “I’m going to keep finagling this thing. I’m going to keep strategizing this thing and coming at a different angle til I can get that yes I’m seeking,” he said.

You can follow Kelly on Twitter at @reggiekelly82 or @kyvan82, on Instagram at @reggiekelly82 or @kyvan82 and on Facebook by searching Reggie Kelly or Kyvan.

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