A leader of local business and civic development has died.
Keith Hutson, 66, perhaps most widely-known for building a Taco Bell empire, lost his fight against brain cancer early Monday morning. He is survived by his wife and business partner, Karen, six children, many grandchildren, and numerous friends.
Hutson owned multiple businesses over the decades under the banner of Hutson Enterprises. Having already been active in trucking, construction and real estate with as many as 22 rental houses and Karsch Village in Farmington, he built his first Taco Bell in Farmington in 1987, the first privately-owned Taco Bell in the St. Louis area.
In the Jan. 22, 2015, edition of the Farmington Press, Hutson was quoted as saying it had been a challenge to convince the Taco Bell Corporation to let him open the fast-food Mexican franchise in Farmington.
“They kept saying ‘It will never work. The town is just not big enough’,” Hutson said. “I flew to Chicago about three times before they would finally give in.”
The Farmington location would go on to be in the top five of the 80-plus stores in that market. According to previous reports in the Daily Journal, more than 32 Taco Bells were amassed in the Southeast Missouri and Southwest Illinois area before the Hutsons sold the franchise in the late 1990s.
He also ventured into Long John Silver’s, which the late Al Dziewa and his wife Kathy would purchase from Hutson. He was a partner in the former Branding Iron Barbecue, which is now Dexter Barbecue in Maple Valley Shopping Center.
Hutson was active in the local athletic scene. He owned Mega Sports, a sporting goods store in Maple Valley, was a major booster for the Farmington High School football field renovations, and organized the Country Days fun-run for many years. He sponsored civic initiatives, fund-raisers, teams and charities too numerous to mention.
In 2007, he and wife Karen opened Twin Oaks Winery and Vineyard on Highway F, where they used to raise cattle. In 2015, the Hutsons purchased longtime family-restaurant staple Catfish Kettle, renovating the restaurant and expanding the menu.
Hutson served on the board of First State Community Bank (FSCB). FSCB President and COO Matt Sebastian said Hutson was a great businessman, and gives Hutson much of the credit for Centene Corporation coming to Farmington. Hutson owned the building the Fortune 100 company first leased in the Farmington Industrial Park.
“He was very instrumental in recruiting Centene Corporation to Farmington,” Sebastian said. “There were a lot of negotiations to bring them here, and Keith was heavily involved in that. And now Centene is a major employer and has thrived in our area. Keith played a big part in making that happen.
Sebastian said Hutson was also a force to be reckoned with at the table. “He was a bulldog, I mean, when they picked him to raise money for the football field, they couldn’t have picked a better guy to do it,” he said. “He wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. He was quite a negotiator.”
He also served on the board of Farmington R-7 School District and was active in the Farmington Chamber of Commerce—he and wife Karen were Mr. and Mrs. Country Days 2000. He was a co-sponsor for the annual Children’s Haven golf tournament, one of the first large golf tournaments of its kind in the area, and was a dedicated member of the Farmington Elks.
As enthusiastic as he was when it came to work, he was just as committed to hobbies and travel, collecting antiques and muscle cars, racing motorcycles, and boating in Lake of the Ozarks.
Longtime friend Robert Firebaugh said he was having a difficult time thinking of Hutson at rest. “He was so aggressive in his pursuits, he worked hard and played hard,” he said. “He was antsy and on-the-go. He had so many things he wanted to do, he never wanted to quit and never wanted to stop.
“He was one of the best friends I’ve ever had, I’m already missing him. And the community will miss him.”
Arrangements for Hutson will soon be pending at Cozean Funeral Home in Farmington.
Sarah Haas is the assistant editor for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-518-3617 or at email@example.com.