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Student entrepreneur turns family recipe into small business

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University of Louisiana at Lafayette senior Ryan King has a mouth-watering method for paying his tuition.

The 25-year-old economics major from New Orleans runs his own business, Taste of Quality, a sweet enterprise that sells his homemade pralines.

“He came up with an idea. He has a vision. He knows where he wants to go, and he has the personality and drive to get him there,” said John Must, a UL Lafayette economics instructor who has taught King in three courses.

Every Saturday, King eagerly hands out samples and greets passersby in front of his booth at the Lafayette Farmers and Artisans Market in Lafayette. By 10 a.m., he’s often left with only crumbs.

Inspired by farmers’ markets, King uses Louisiana ingredients as much as possible, such as pecans from New Roads, La., and sugar made from sugar cane grown in the Bayou State.

“This (farm-to-table) movement is putting control back into your hands. If you can’t produce your own food, you’re always going to be dependent on somebody. That’s what’s so interesting about the farmers’ market. You get to know your farmer like you get to know your banker,” he said.

His recipe has just a few ingredients. Along with sugar and pecans, he mixes evaporated milk, pure vanilla extract and brandy.

King works more than 20 hours a week preparing and packaging the pralines. That’s on top of a full course load and a part-time job as a radio broadcaster on 770 AM KJCB. He’s on track to graduate in May 2014.

Must said he’s impressed by King’s work ethic. “I know he makes the pralines at night, and he still comes to class on time, ready to go. That’s hard for a person to do, even when you’re young,” he said.

King rents time in the kitchen of The Accidental Chef, a Lafayette cooking school.

He looks at ease there, despite the precise timing needed for perfect pralines. He sells about 10 dozen each week at the farmers’ market. The treats are also sold at several locations in Lafayette: Old Tyme Grocery, Roly Poly Sandwiches, Country Cuisine, Champagne's Market, E's Kitchen, Kreole Ala' and Caffe Cottage.

“The pralines cover about 20 percent of the cost (of tuition), but I’ve got a couple of loans. So, once this business really kicks off, I’m going to use it to pay them off. So, it’s paying for my school, in that sense,” King said.

His culinary interest was piqued at age 17 by his mother, Georgia King. She runs Georgia’s Fine Foods, a New Orleans catering company that’s made return customers of President Barack Obama and comedian Bill Cosby.

Working from her recipe, King began making creamy pralines, eventually selling them to coworkers.

After one semester at UL Lafayette, he changed his major from architecture to economics, attributing his entrepreneurial ambition for the decision. Even as an architecture student, his foremost goal was to own an architecture firm.

He plans to continue down the entrepreneurial path after graduation.

“When you go into business for yourself, there’s nobody over your shoulder telling you that you have to do something. You have to have that drive and motivation,” he said.