BILL WILLIAMS knows why some of the country's best athletes - Carl Lewis, Lawrence Taylor, and Bo Jackson - come from the South.
The secret of their success, he says, was their mommas' Southern cooking: ``Now, you know all they did was sit there and eat corn bread and greens.''
But Southern dishes such as collard greens, turnip and mustard greens, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, and candied sweet potatoes can take hours of preparation. And people today just aren't willing to toil the long hours in the kitchen that their mothers did, Mr. Williams says.
Hence Williams's Glory Foods - a pioneering national line of canned and packaged Southern cuisine, named after the movie ``Glory,'' which dramatized the Massachusetts 54th Regiment of the Civil War's first black unit.
The concept: Remove the drudgery from preparing some of the more popular Southern dishes, which helps attract diners with little patience.
Greens, a tough, leafy vegetable, can take five hours to clean and cook. But a can of seasoned Glory greens takes only 15 minutes to heat. Dried pinto beans bought at the supermarket must soak in water for several hours before they're ready to cook. A can of heat-and-eat Glory beans takes minutes to warm.
Williams, who is black, grew up in Columbus, Ohio, but was fed a diet rich in Southern tradition. He always wondered why no one had come up with a quick way to prepare some of his favorite dishes and why supermarkets lacked an ethnic-food section specializing in the ``down-home'' fare common in many African-American homes.
So the restaurant owner parlayed his 20-plus years of experience in food service and founded the company with three former coworkers.
Local Kroger stores last year test-marketed the quick-to-fix products, which include a variety of spicy greens, beans and peas, yams, corn-bread and corn-muffin mix, hot sauce and peppered vinegar.
``They were good-tasting, and they were unique,'' Terry Smith, a buyer for Kroger, says. ``We decided that it would be a good thing to try.''
The trial run was a success, and the foods ventured south, into Atlanta.
``If I can get a Southern woman to say Glory Foods are acceptable, I know that I can go back up to Detroit or Cleveland and you will buy it as an acceptable alternative,'' Williams says.
Now, the products also are sold in Cincinnati, Dayton, and Toledo, Ohio; Nashville, Tenn.; Louisville, Ky.; Columbia and Charleston, S.C.; Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, and Greensboro, N.C.; Richmond and Norfolk, Va.; Washington; and Baltimore.
Although the foods were created with the young black professional woman in mind, their appeal reaches farther, Williams says. ``We're also finding that grandma is really smart and is saying: `Look I can have greens on Tuesday. They're not as good as mine, but they're OK,' '' he says.
Pat Jackson, of Columbus, a self-described ``die-hard Glory fan,'' says, ``I love their food. The yams are so good. I've never tasted any like them before. The greens are good, too, but I prefer them fresh. And the hot sauce could be hotter.''
WILLIAMS wants every grocery store to carry his products but says it has been a challenge getting white storeowners to agree.
``After we talk with some of the white stores, they look at you like: `Why do we want to do business with you?''' Williams says.
John Robinson, president of the National Minority Council in Washington, says that attitude is common. ``Unfortunately, there is still that degree of segregation and discrimination in the marketplace as it pertains to ethnic products and services,'' Robinson says.
But David Stewart, a professor of marketing at the University of Southern California Business School, says retailers are generally interested in selling to the ethnic and minority markets. ``It has little to do with ethics and morality. It's a basic economic issue,'' Stewart says. ``These represent growth areas in the marketplace.''
Williams says his foods have crossover appeal. The foods sell well in some predominantly white neighborhoods. ``We weren't looking for the white market,'' Williams says. ``Up until five years ago, we didn't know that whites eat the same as blacks in the South.''