It’s how he keeps such a rosy outlook on life, even while hauling heavy luggage outside the San Antonio airport at 4:15 a.m. And in his 18 years as a skycap for Southwest Airlines, he has tried to leave all of his newly-made friends with that golden rule.
Any passenger not in a huge hurry to get to a gate -- or who is just too polite to say otherwise -- will likely be told by Watts that they can call him "Herb from the Curb."
“You can Google it," he says, then explains that his real passion is people. That's why he loves working as a skycap. But he also loves extraordinary barbecue, and he hopes his name brand -- with the help of a few good friends -- will soon take flight.
You’ve got a friend
Take Watts up on his offer and land at www.HerbFromTheCurb.com. At the site, visitors will find a story about the barbecue sauce he and his wife De Havalan have been making for years, as well as a photo of Watts giving the thumbs up with a man in a suit.
"That's Big Herb," Watts said.
He's referring to Southwest Airlines co-founder and former CEO Herb Kelleher, who has become known for his friendliness and his eclectic way of doing business.
Watts explained that he and Kelleher used to always joke about switching roles when they would run into each other outside the San Antonio airport. One time, he decided to ask Kelleher for a favor.
“I said, ‘Herb, can I ask you a favor? This is serious now. Would you be willing to consider endorsing our barbecue sauce?’ Watts said. "He grabbed me and said, ‘Sure, Herb!’”
The endorsement, Watts said, was huge, although it shouldn't be surprising. After all, good comes back to good. It's what he's believed his whole life.
Believing in good
Growing up in a broken home on the city's east side that was surrounded by alcoholism and drug abuse, Watts recalls writing "Do the right thing," on a piece of paper and posting it on the refrigerator door so that his Dad would read it before reaching in for another beer.
“You share what you feel inside you," Watts said. "The joy that you’ve got, I believe in sharing that joy with others. And the reward is to just make a difference with one person, and you’ve done your job.”
Watts says his turning point in life was in high school, when he was recruited to play basketball for the Texas Military Institute. There, he said, counselors like Lynn Hicks and others rallied around him. They believed in him. They helped him prove everybody else wrong.
“Everybody thought I was going to become the alcoholic and drug addict like my Dad,” he said. "But it didn’t happen."
Instead, he’s stuck to his mantra, trying to spread his pay-it-forward philosophy to everyone he meets. But it doesn't always make a difference. Sometimes, though, an impression really sticks, and good really does come back to good.
When Angi Willis first met Watts about three years ago, he was selling "Watts BBQ Sauce" on jars marked with a label made with a Sharpie marker, notebook paper and clear tape.
As the CEO of MasterPlan Strategies, Willis helps clients develop their businesses. Usually, she explained, her clients already need to have more than just a jar with a taped-on label. But she took an interest in helping Watts anyway.
"I was really just drawn to his heart," she said. "He just cares about people and he makes me want to care about him, and I do."
Willis also believed in the product, which delivers a sweet and tangy flavor with a pleasing after burn. So she teamed up with Watts and De Havalan to develop a business plan. With the help of close friend Cynthia Roacha and other Southwest passengers, they decided on a new name for the sauce: “Herb from the Curb.”
They got the Herb Kelleher endorsement. They designed the flight-themed label. They even got hooked up with a commercial kitchen that enables De Havalan, who cooks the sauce, to prepare up to 55 gallons in 10 minutes -- it used to take her 2 and a hald hours to prepare 2 gallons in her kitchen at home. It didn't take long for them to get the product onto store shelves.
The sauce has come a long way from the roadside barbecue stand that Watts and De Havalan once ran out in Floresville, where they now live. De Havalan’s kitchen recipe has gone gourmet. Seeing the sauce for sale in a handful of stores throughout San Antonio is a dream come true. However, Watts says the sauce is just starting to lift off.
In the coming weeks, Watts said he plans on approaching some larger grocery chains in the San Antonio area. He said he is also developing three new flavors to diversify the product.
Leave them with a smile
The chatty and chummy skycap only hopes for the best. When the airport is slow, he tells his frequent-flyer friends about his grand plans and even asks them to pray for him. But even if the sauce doesn't find the launch pad Herb is hoping for, he said good has already come back to good.
From his humble beginnings, Watts is happy to have a place he can call home. He’s been married to his high school crush for 21 years. He says God has also blessed him with a beautiful 16-year-old daughter a 19-year-old son, both named after their parents. On top of all that, he finds joy and satisfaction in his work at the airport.
“I get them where they want to go and their bags where they want to go,” he said. “The reward is to see them leave with a smile. That’s my reward.”
As the morning hustle at the Southwest kiosk finally began to settle on a recent morning, and the lines grew shorter, Watts was his true chummy self as he gently pushed a flyer and her wheelchair into the airport, chatting in her ear all the way.
“You can tell him Herb from the Curb said hi,” Watts said. “And remind him, good comes back to good.”
Where to buy (call first, stock may be limited)
Gabriel Superstore, 1309 North Loop 1604 (near Blanco)
Coopers Meat Market, 6002 Broadway St.
Green Fields Market, 19239 Stone Oak Parkway
Ewald Tractor, 2600 Business Loop 181, N Floresville