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The Business of Meetings

Feb 23, 2021

Today, we have the great pleasure of talking to Jeff Fugate. Jeff is an icon in our industry and a rock star in sales and marketing. He never gets tired of learning, questioning the future, and making changes. 

In this episode, Jeff talks about the amazing pivot he did in 2020.  

Join us today to hear Jeff’s fascinating and inspiring story of resilience. We know you’re going to enjoy our conversation!   

Jeff Fugate’s bio:

Jeff is the Owner and Chief Queso Officer of Empty Bowl Queso. After 30 years in Sales and Leadership, he ventured out on his own to give everyone in the world the opportunity to experience good queso. He lives in Leesburg, VA, with his wife, two kids, and a menagerie of pets.

Jeff’s background

Jeff has been passionate about sales and marketing for a very long time. He started his career in the sales and marketing space in Kinko’s Organization. He spent much of his time focusing on sales methodology and learning and perfecting different methods of sales. It worked for him, and he continued learning and helping others. 

Sales training program

Jeff and his sales manager developed a sales training program for the entire Kinko’s Organization in the mid-1990s. They trained over 600 people with that method. 

Moving on

The sales manager then moved on to start the B2B side of the Office Max Document Services business and recruited Jeff shortly after. They kept on striving to improve their sales methodology, and they went out and deployed it.

Getting into the events business

A chance meeting in the airport with Bruce Harris, the founder and president of Conferon, resulted in Jeff getting brought over into the events business. 

Jeff Fugate’s thoughts on leadership 

Jeff believes in servant leadership. He has always viewed his role as a leader to help people develop their skills, their knowledge, and their wisdom. Part of that is allowing people to learn from their mistakes.

For Jeff, real leadership is about leaders looking for ways to help their people, rather than looking for ways to catch his team members doing something wrong. 


Jeff understands that mistakes are an important part of learning.

Jeff’s role

Jeff has always viewed his role as helping people get better and getting the obstacles out of their way, so they can become most efficient and effective in what they do.

Dealing with change

Change is hard, and it involves risk. When dealing in complex, high-end sales with a lot on the line, it can be scary. So, as a leader, you need to help your people through that.

Making a change

In 2007, Mark Miller approached Jeff to help him write books, and Jeff jumped in with him. After 2008, Jeff realized that things were not working out in the way he thought they would.


A former colleague from Office Max had gone to work for an organization called Clear, which provided wireless, high-speed internet at the time. Clear was looking for someone to start up the DC area, so Jeff jumped into that boat and became employee number one in DC for the Clear Organization. It was there that he learned more about what leadership meant to him.


In 2010, Jeff returned to Experient, and he remained there through many changes. He became reunited with David Peckinpaugh in 2012, and they have been through several changes since then.


Jeff realized that Covid would be bigger than most people thought it would be, at first. Maritz Global Events struggled for several months until finally, Jeff and many other employees got furloughed. 

Getting into something new

Losing his position at Maritz Global Events allowed Jeff to do something that he had been working on as a side-project for quite some time. 

A fundraiser

In 2017, Jeff made a big pot of queso to sell as a fundraiser at the Super Bowl to help his daughter and her marching band get to Disneyland for the Veteran’s Day parade. He put a post on Facebook and got blown away by the number of people who responded and wanted to help. The fundraiser carried on for the next several years. After three years, Jeff reflected, did the math, and realized that he needed to legitimize what he was doing. So, he started with the process of getting certified by the state of Virginia, and he found a commercial kitchen to use instead of using his own kitchen.


In the mid-1990s, Jeff started making queso with his favorite green chile peppers that he bought in Hatch, New Mexico. In the 2000’s, making queso became Jeff’s hobby, and he started trying out some new things to make it even better. 

In 2012, the Hatch chile peppers became available locally. That changed things for Jeff because he could make even more queso and share them with even more people.

Coming up with a name

Jeff came up with the name, Empty Bowl Queso, and his wife came up with a great logo. 

Jeff Fugate’s next move

After getting the news about his position being eliminated, Jeff Fugate decided that the time had come for him to start putting all his energy into his queso business. He had no anxiety and felt naturally positive about it working out. 

A learning experience

The queso business has been quite a ride and a tremendous learning experience for Jeff, and the business has been growing.

What Jeff learned

Jeff learned that starting small, you sometimes cannot get the things you need because you are just not big enough. As a result, you can’t do what you need to do. It is a classic the-chicken-or-the-egg situation. From a scale perspective, he has to keep thinking of ways to work around that and act like a big company when he is still a small company.


Jeff is currently focusing on expanding his local retail base in the DC area, and he has been crushing it! His strategy for 2021 is to focus on the DC market, grow the retail base, and use farmer’s markets to help get the word out. He could also potentially expand to Dallas, Las Vegas, and Chicago. By this time next year, he would like to start going after mass retail.

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