They call him “Mater Man.” Close friends can hardly pass the produce section in Kroger without thinking of Steve Turner. Steve’s a Roanoke native who is well known in the local real estate community, having worked for Owens & Company, REALTORS, Long & Foster and currently, Lichtenstein Rowan. When he’s not working, Steve can often be found at the Wildwood Smokehouse, in close proximity to a hot chicken wing and a cold beer. He’s always quick with a joke and a smile, and is a friend to everyone around him. Oh and he’s a rabid Hokie football fan!
Why is he called ‘Mater Man? If you visited Steve’s back yard, you’d understand. He has a gorgeous garden, named “Fort ‘Mater” by his longtime friend Pat Clark, due to its fortifications against marauding deer. I asked Pat what she thought of Steve’s foray into the sauce business:
“My friend and former co-worker, always enjoyed his summer hobby of growing great tomatoes! We always looked forward to the season when we would have those delicious bags of tomatoes delivered to our desk, or sometimes, even to people’s homes! He was lovingly named the “mater man!”
In the true spirit of entrepreneurship, Steve has turned his passion into productivity! Growing even bigger and better tomatoes each year, he expanded the patch to a small backyard farm! In order to protect his new crop from critters—and protect critters from him—-he built “ Mater FT. Knox”! Not even a butterfly could enter there!
Now there are sauces, salsa’s, peppers, and more! I expect to see this Peter Piper with his Pickles, Peppers and more be in great demand, and I hope they are enjoyed throughout the Region and beyond!” -Pat Clark
After 20+ years of gardening, he knows what he’s doing. Steve grows a lot of tomatoes. In fact, he grows so many that he has started a company named “Ol’ Phat Tuners Salsa-Sauces-Pickles.”
Recently, I had lunch with Steve to find out more about his new company. The first thing I wanted to know was about the name. Ol’ Phat Tuner? You can’t use that, you’re “Mater Man!” I thought. But Steve explained: “I used to steal cookies from my best friend’s mother’s cookie jar.” One day Steve found a note taped to the jar that read “Old Fat Tuner was here!” What they didn’t know at the time was that Mrs. Ratliff was baking chocolate chip cookies just so the boys could steal them. She left the note as a joke, and it was a fond memory. In keeping with the times, Steve changed “fat” to “phat” and a company was born.
I asked Steve what gave him the idea to start a company of his own. Basically, he said, he’d turned a hobby into a vocation. Like many people, he had a dream to “do what he loves to do.” Steve grows virtually all the ingredients that go into his products: tomatoes, cucumbers, thyme, oregano, dill, basil, tomatillos, banana peppers, jalapenos, cayenne, red cherry, pepperoncini…you name it! The recipes are all his own, and he has spent years perfecting them.
Of course I wondered how sales have been, but when I asked, the answer stunned me. “I don’t make any sales” Steve said. It seems that the regulations governing food sales are more complicated and expensive than Steve can comply with. He doesn’t have a professional kitchen or the ability to furnish nutritional labels. What he does have is a dream-and delicious salsa, pickles, and sauces, made from locally-grown ingredients that are often picked the same day the product is made. Farm to table at its best!
If you’d like to try some, Ol’ Phat Tuner’s Facebook Page will put you in touch with Steve. (Don’t forget to “Like” it while you’re there.) Some of the products offered are dill pickles, hot peppered dills, bread & butter pickles, chow-chow, salsa and salsa verde, and “Loganator-285 Hot Sauce” (named for Steve’s son, Logan, who is a Championship High School wrestler in the 285lb. class.) Maybe you can trade Steve for something, (we traded homemade barbecue for salsa) or just ask and ye might receive. One taste of his delicious, fresh products and you’ll be glad you hooked up with a “Tuner!”