Human Interest

Down syndrome didn’t stop Matthew from starting his own barbecue business

Down syndrome

Matthew Hessburg has never allowed living with Down syndrome to get in the way of pursuing his dreams. That’s how he managed to launch his brand of barbecue sauces on October 12th. A native of Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan, Matthew describes himself as a “hot and spicy guy,” with a special relationship to food, and to family through food.

“From an early age,” says Matthew on Instagram, “my three brothers and I have always had a strong relationship with food. We have always loved cooking, grilling, baking, or our favorite – eating!”

One of his favorite parts of the year involves gathering with his family at his grandparents’ cabin in Minnesota, where they spend lots of time doing outdoor activities, but also gathering around a continuous bonfire. This childhood love of cooking and happy memories around a bonfire spurred him on to pursue a degree in Hospitality and Restaurant Management at Western Carolina University, where he also trained at the award-winning Haywood Smokehouse. The Smokehouse gave Matthew the idea to put his own personal spin on Carolina barbecue sauce, and he has even grown his own peppers to bring as much home and family to his sauce as possible. 

READ: Rep. Sean Duffy’s family welcomes baby girl with Down syndrome: ‘The most perfect angel’

Once he had his idea, Matthew began to concoct the perfect recipe. “Developing the sauces was a year long process,” said Matthew in an Instagram post. “It required lots of experimenting with ingredients, taste testings with family and friends, and then final tweaks of our homemade sauces based on feedback.” And the end result, he says, brings all the best homey memories to you. “When you taste the sauce I hope you feel love, warmth, and comfort – just like being around a bonfire.” 

Matthew’s line of sauces is just the first step in achieving his dreams. According to his website, with these sauces, he hopes to use the money to start his own barbecue restaurant with a fire pit to create “the ultimate gathering spot.” But Matthew also wants to give back and help others with intellectual disabilities realize their dreams to attend college. “A portion of the proceeds from all of Matthew’s Bonfire BBQ sauces goes to the University Participant Program at his alma mater and Ruby’s Rainbow Scholarships for individuals with Down syndrome.” 

Matthew’s Bonfire Barbecue sauce comes in two flavors — Carolina gold and blueberry chipotle — and is for sale on his company website.

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