Thomas Howard, biscuit maker at Bojangles' on West State of Franklin Road (Brad Hicks/Johnson City Press)
Thomas Howard knows what it takes to make the perfect biscuit.
“It’s following the recipe and just enjoying it, just a love for cooking,” he said.
Next week, Howard will put his biscuit-making prowess to the test as he travels to Charlotte, N.C., to compete in the annual Bojangles’ Master Biscuit Maker Challenge, a companywide competition in which thousands of Bojangles’ employees from more than 550 locations compete for the title of Master Biscuit Maker.
Howard has worked at the West State of Franklin Road Bojangles’ location for nearly two years, and the 30-year-old has worked in the food industry for the past 16 years.
Howard’s road to finalist in the Master Biscuit Maker Challenge was not an easy one. First, he had to compete against his co-workers at the store. From there, he then went on to compete against Bojangles’ biscuit makers from other franchise locations in the general Tri-Cities area. After winning this phase, Howard had to put his skills to the test against employees from across the region.
Once he was awarded the title of best Bojangles’ biscuit maker in the region on Oct. 22, Howard was named as one of the seven finalists in the Master Biscuit Maker Challenge. The competition will take place Nov. 14 at the Bojangles’ Support Center in Charlotte. Each finalist will receive a finalist trophy and $500, but the overall winner will receive the coveted Master Biscuit Maker trophy and a cash prize of $2,500. Each batch will be judged by Bojangles’ staff members based on how well the recipe was followed, the size and shape of the biscuits and completion time.
While judges have obviously given their approval to Howard’s work throughout the competition, he said customers have also sang the praises of the made-from-scratch buttermilk biscuits over the past couple of years.
“I’ve had a few people comment on the quality and thank me for making the biscuits,” Howard said. “Actually, I got a tip from a person one time, a $5 tip.”
Dean Cheek, co-manager of the West State of Franklin Bojangles’, remembers his reaction when he got word Howard had been named a franchise finalist in the competition.
“Man, I was jumping up and down, screaming on the telephone, I was yelling at everybody in the kitchen ‘Thomas won! Thomas won! He won it,’ ” Cheek said. “Just for us to have that accolade winning regionals and moving on to the big finale, this is a great sense of pride. We’re loving this. I think now we have a lot more people interested in this store who want to be the Master Biscuit Maker next year.”
Biscuits continue to be the big seller at Bojangles’ locations throughout the country. Since Bojangles was founded in 1977, around 3 billion biscuits have been served. Biscuit makers must complete a 12-step process to make each biscuit. Sam Trigg, director of operations for Tri-Cities area Bojangles’ locations, said each step in the process, from the fluffing of the flour to making sure the shortening is dime-sized, must be carried out precisely to create consistent, quality biscuits.
“There’s definitely a trade to it,” Trigg said. “Not anybody can just jump on the biscuit table.”
Howard said bringing the Master Biscuit Maker title to Johnson City would mean a lot to the West State of Franklin restaurant.
“For the store, I’m sure it will bring more business, coming to see the winner of the Master Biscuit finals,” he said. “It’ll bring encouragement to each individual at the store, I’m sure, believing that they could hopefully achieve that as well.”
Howard also said the recognition he has received thus far has meant a great deal to him personally.
“For me, I just enjoy making the biscuits, and it’s an exciting adventure to me to be able to experience this level of competition,” he said.