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Clustered around Allen Purnell, a group of employees all answered at once when asked what they thought of their boss.
"He's gooo-od!" they chorused in unison as Purnell grinned the same easy-going grin he has made famous in his popular television commercials.
The group gaffawed when asked if they liked sausage.
"Sure do," said Robert Purnell, the youngest of the Purnell men who work at F.B. Purnell Sausage in Simpsonville.
"Well, he better," someone else said, amid more laughter.
So who is Allen Purnell, second-generation sausage-maker and cultural icon for those TV spots often seen on broadcasts of University of Kentucky sports events?
His favorite breakfast is– what else? – sausage and biscuits.
"He's not kidding either," someone said with a chuckle.
That camaraderie has helped make the sausage-making business less of a chore and more like hog heaven, said Allen Purnell, CEO and co-owner along with his brother, Robert.
"We're all like family, here; there are six of us Purnell boys working here, me and Robert are second-generation owners," he said.
Allen, 76, sits in his office, surrounded by photos of his family and the plant from its first days in Simpsonville in 1956 to the present.
"That's my daddy," Purnell said, pointing to an old black-and-white photo of a man next to a Purnell's sausage sign.
“And that there is was our first plant," he said, gesturing toward another photo. “We've built around that first plant four or five times now. We started out in 1956 with fifteen employees. Now we have two hundred and fifty."
Purnell told the story of how his family got started in the sausage-making business in his own laid-back way for which he is known far away from Simpsonville. In fact, he’s known across the country for those filmed family celebrations of the family business. And for good reason.
"My daddy, he started it, and me and my brothers and sister, we all helped him," he said. "Before we went to school, we'd go to the plant and put whatever stuff we needed on the peddlin' truck, and when we came home that afternoon, we'd clean up the plant and do whatever needed to be done. And my mama and my brother and sister and me, we all wrapped sausage by hand."
Where it started
Purnell was born in Nashville, one of four children born to Fred and Clara Purnell. Fred Purnell, a railroad mechanic, nicknamed "Old Folks," because he liked to sit around listening to older people talk, made his own homemade sausage and took it to work along with some leftover biscuits from breakfast for his lunch. One day, he shared his lunch with a co-worker who liked it so well, he told Purnell he wanted to buy some from him.
In 1944, when Purnell retired from the railroad because of a disability, his sausage making went from a hobby to a full-time family business. In 1950, the Purnells moved to Louisville on the premise that the sausage would sell even better in the city, where it was more of a novelty than in rural areas.
They rented a small plant, and family members all pitched in to help, with brothers Bob and Fred making the sausage, the mother and daughter Betty sewing bags to stuff it in, and Allen and his dad going out to "peddle" it.
"The only time I've ever been away from it is when I was in the Army," Purnell said. “I would go with Dad when he did the peddlin,’ and I liked that, 'cause I could dress up a little better going to call on customers than I could in the plant.”
In 1955, Purnell, marketing his sausage as Old Folks, purchased land in Simpsonville and built a new plant that has seen much expansion over the years, though it never has changed location.
Purnell said his parents moved to Simpsonville because they did not like living in the city, and he said he would not want to live anywhere else.
"We [wife Ann] live on a farm and have cattle," he said. "I consider Simpsonville my hometown. I'll be here fifty-eight years come June, so I am a Simpsonvillian."
Of Purnell's four children, Todd, Kenny, Allen and Cindy, Todd has stayed on at the plant to lead the third generation of Purnells. Bob Purnell's son, Rob, and his late brother Fred's son, Mike, also are involved. Rob's son, Robert III, makes a fourth generation.
The plant now distributes its sausage to more than 40 states, shipping out 25 to 30 million pounds of sausage per year to retail stores and restaurants.
Purnell's unique marketing campaign began about 40 years ago, he said, when he started expanding on his father's idea of putting the words, "It's Good," on boxes of sausage.
"Daddy always put that on the package, but I kinda drug it out a little more, and people liked that," he said.
Even his grandchildren, Matthew Purnell and Annie Crocket, have gotten into the act and say the famous words on commercials with him. Purnell has a framed photo of a huge banner bearing the slogan hanging up at a University of Kentucky basketball game. The company’s Web address is www.itsgoo-od.com.
"Whenever I go somewhere, people always want to hear me say 'it's gooo-od!" he said. "I went to the doctor's office the other day, and before I left, somebody said, 'Hey, Allen, is it good?' and I said, 'Yeah, it's gooo-od!' They get a big kick out of it, so I keep sayin' it."
Purnell said his slogan is not just words, but a promise to customers of high quality.
"Keeping quality consistent is the most important thing we do," he said. "We work hard to make sure it's right, because if a feller likes our sausage, then he'll want to eat it again. And when people buy it again, we want to make sure that it's going to be consistently Gooo-od!"