Mackenzie Colt is a Nashville legend in her own right. With an entertainment background that includes stints as a “Hee Haw” Honey and opening for Buck Owens, Mackenzie made a name for herself long before she went “from the stage to the stove” and founded Colts Chocolate Company in 1984. But it’s her role as chocolatier that makes her a household name throughout the South — and to think it all started because she brought a sample of her Gooey Butter Pie into the Honey Baked Ham store on West End Avenue all those years ago. Meet Colts Chocolates Founder and Brand Ambassador, Mackenzie Colt!
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I married at 15, had a son at 16, and got my first singing job at 17, playing happy hour at a restaurant. It was great because I was home all day with my baby and worked for two hours in the evening. I read a million cookbooks and loved playing with the recipes in the kitchen.
For many years, I was in the music business as a singer and songwriter. I traveled with Buck Owens as his opening act for a couple of years, and he introduced me to the “Hee Haw” producer, and he hired me. I was on the show for many years as one of the “Hee Haw” Honeys … except I was the only girl on the show who was a singer, musician and songwriter. So, they asked me to perform one of my songs every season. After six or seven years on the show, I moved to Nashville to pursue songwriting and ended up starting a chocolate company — and I never looked back. Colts Chocolates is now the oldest specialty chocolate company in Nashville — 36 years!
What made you fall in love with Nashville and decide to relocate here?
I had been coming here for years to do the “Hee Haw” show. I fell in love with the town and people, and I write country music, so there you go! Everyone was so helpful to me as I started my company. There weren’t many women doing that then, especially a woman with no formal education. I read, asked questions and learned from the answers. My grandsons might say I ask too many questions. I’m sure I do! I learned by asking those questions and listening to great people in Nashville; I’m not sure my company would have been as successful in another city.
“Hee Haw” is such a legendary variety show. How did you become a “Hee Haw” Honey, and what is your favorite moment from filming the show?”
I was touring with Buck Owens and the Buckaroos as his opening act (the first 30 minutes on stage with no band — just me and my guitar), and he had an idea to introduce me to the “Hee Haw” producer. He said after 1,000 auditions, they still hadn’t found the girl they were looking for. He wanted them to meet me, and I was hired.
My favorite moments from the show … as the only girl on the show that was a singer and songwriter, they asked me to sing one of my songs each season. I had the full backup band (with the legendary Charlie McCoy) and Nashville Edition as my backup singers, all performing my song with me singing it.
You coined the phrase “from the stage to the stove.” Can you tell us about the transition from show business to chocolatier?
I did invent the phrase “from the stage to the stove” because that’s how it felt. My love of music, performing, writing and cooking is very strong. It’s great to be able to earn a living with all of your passions. After so many years on stage, I thought, Hey, I’d like to try this food business. Here we are 36 years later, and we’re still cookin’.
Your namesake, Colts Chocolates, has a brand new factory in East Nashville and a kiosk in the Green Hills Mall — how did Colts Chocolate Company come about?
I started Colts Chocolates in a little commercial kitchen in Berry Hill that was 800 square feet. The cool thing was it had been Minnie Pearl’s test kitchen when she had her fried chicken business. It already had washable walls and sinks and many of the requirements for a commercial kitchen. I felt that, because it had been Minnie’s test kitchen (although her fried chicken business did not last), maybe it was a good vibe for me. I loved Minnie. I always thought she was the prettiest female on “Hee Haw.”
After several years of expanding to 3,300 square feet, we had outgrown the space in Berry Hill, and I found the building in the soon-to-be Gulch. At the time, it was mostly homeless folks walking around. We spent 25 years in a 10,000-square-foot building, and as The Gulch grew, we grew. Many things made it too difficult to maintain a manufacturing business there — parking for employees, customers, pick up and delivery with 18-wheeler trucks trying to get in and out, etc. Last year, we decided to move to East Nashville and build our own production facility. We also opened retail kiosk spaces at The Mall at Green Hills and Opry Mills. Soon we will open a retail space at our factory.
We have to know — what’s your favorite chocolate you make?
My Colts Bolts — chocolate, peanut butter and whole-roasted almonds. The whole-roasted almonds make a huge difference from other “chocolate and peanut butter” brands. The Bolt is made with milk chocolate and dark chocolate; I love them both.
What were the biggest challenges you faced as a young female entrepreneur?
I knew instinctively that, as a young ex-“Hee Haw” Honey, no one would take me seriously as a businesswoman unless I had a consistently great product. I had to prove myself. The best way to do that was to show up every day and work my ass off. Your personality and smile can get you in the door, but you better be able to back it up with a quality product.
What has been the most memorable or rewarding aspect of Colts Chocolates?
So many famous people through the years have ordered my chocolates and desserts. It’s just plain cool to have Robert Redford order my Gooey Butter Bar. It’s exciting to have Ethel Kennedy order boxes of my Bumble Bees. But the greatest day was winning the sofi™ Award from the Specialty Food Association. It’s our Academy Award in the business. Of course, it was awarded for my Colts Bolts.
Are you still hands-on with the day-to-day chocolate-making activities? If so, what is your favorite part?
With a well-trained, hard-working staff and managers, it frees me up to do more promotion of this little gem of a company. People love to hear about the history of a 100-percent woman-created business. Authentically, music and food are at the heart of this town. And that is Colts Chocolates. I love public speaking, telling my story and hopefully inspiring other women to work for their dream. After 35 years, I finally have time to do this.
Consider me the brand ambassador — the face of the company. Above all, [I’m] the mother of Colts Chocolates.
What are your favorite Nashville hot spots to take visiting guests for a night on the town?
Yawn. I call an Uber and send them downtown.
What book is currently on your nightstand?
I love this question! I read at least 100 books a year. I am re-reading Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell is This?, and I just finished a lovely book by Nashville’s very own Mary Laura Philpott, with the most clever title: I Miss You When I Blink. [I’m also reading] Cokie Roberts Founding Mothers: Remembering the Ladies, about the women who raised our nation. It’s interesting to think about that.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever given or received?
Never ruin an apology with a “but.” Or is that my pet peeve? Or both?
Not including faith, family and friends, what are three things you cannot live without?
My dog, afternoon naps, good strong coffee and being up before dawn. Oops, that’s four things.
Thanks for chatting with us, Mackenzie. And thanks to Leila Grossman for the beautiful photos.
Read more interviews with our inspirational FACES in our archives HERE!