Jim Mullen, Cop Paralyzed While on Duty, Expanding Applesauce Business
FOREST GLEN — Friends and family of Jim Mullen, a former Rogers Park cop who was disabled in the line of duty, never doubted he could get his mom's applesauce onto supermarket shelves.
"As soon as he started talking about it, I knew he was going to succeed," said John Gordon, who works with the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation and has known Mullen for a decade. "He’s just that type of person."
Mullen, 49, started his applesauce business — Officer Mullen's Apple Sauce — in 2007 as a hobby despite spending the past 17 years hooked up to a ventilator and bound to a wheelchair.
Now he plans to take his business to the next level, and he's asking help from fans of his sauce to donate money toward a Kickstarter campaign that in its first week has already surpassed an initial goal of $25,000.
The money will help Mullen reach more distributors, and then more retailers. He's already on the shelves of 200 grocery stores in the Chicago area and as far as Pennsylvania. By this time next year, he hopes to be in as many as 1,500.
"I hope in a year I can be Chicago's favorite applesauce," he said from his wheelchair in his Forest Glen home, where he lives with his 17-year-old daughter, Maggie, and wife, Athena.
Mullen said he grew up about a mile away, where his late mom, Audre, was "a phenomenal cook."
And she was always was sure to keep a jar full of her homemade applesauce in the refrigerator.
"All the time when she'd make stuff we'd tease her around the table and tell her, 'We should bottle this, we should bottle this,'" Mullen said.
So in 2007, he did just that and ordered 40 cases from a small-batch manufacturer.
He gave away all 480 of the 16-ounce jars.
"My favorite thing to do is give away my applesauce," he said. "I feel like I'm sharing the spirit of my mom with people."
Now, he's shipping as many as 400 cases a month.
His mom, who died two years ago, would call from the nearby Happy Foods while shopping to let Mullen know how many jars were in stock.
Mullen met his wife, a Chicago police detective, when they patrolled the streets of Rogers Park in the '80s.
"We had a little police officer romance going on," she said.
They married, and when their daughter was 6 months old, Mullen's life changed forever.
On Oct. 16, 1996, he responded to reports of a man with a gun shooting at passing "L" trains from 1404 W. Estes Ave.
"We tried to gain entry into his apartment and we couldn't do so," he said. Then, as they were leaving the scene, the suspect "jumped out his door and fired two shots."
A bullet entered his cheek and damaged his spine.
"I was a quadriplegic. Boom. Instantly," Mullen said. "I shouldn't have lived. I got shot in the cheek with a .357 Magnum."
But his injury has never kept him down from pursuing his passions.
"He’s got a lot of energy and he always wants to help people," Athena Mullen said. "He just loves giving the applesauce away and seeing their faces light up after they taste it."
Mullen said a portion of profits from his company would be donated to the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation.
Gordon, the foundation spokesman, said his cupboard is full of Mullen's applesauce.
Of all the disabled or struggling officers the foundation serves, Gordon said Mullen is the most severe case.
"He’s a very inspirational man. He’s a very positive man," said Gordon. "I don’t know I could be as positive as he is, given the circumstances."
Muller said he knows he makes "the planet's greatest applesauce" — and now it's just a matter of time before it becomes Chicago's favorite.
But even if his business doesn't succeed in the competitive food industry, he's not going to "sweat the small stuff."
"It's not life or death," he said. "I've been through that."