Bubba Clark has been eating his grandfather's Southern sauce all his life - part barbecue, part marinade, part dipping sauce.
"Friends liked the sauce so much, they would call over to the house asking for a gallon or two," Mr. Clark recalls.
Then in 1996, the full-time union pipe welder decided to turn the beloved secret sauce into a business.
After obtaining a food manufacturer's license, Mr. Clark began cooking and bottling Clark's Original Southern Recipe Sauce in south Augusta while his new bride, Dawn, handled marketing.
"I called local (grocery store) department heads and asked them to try our sauce," she said. "They tasted it themselves and decided to carry it."
Kroger was the first area supermarket chain to carry Clark's Sauce, followed quickly by Bi-Lo. In addition to various locally owned stores, Clark's Sauce is now in Wal-Mart, Winn Dixie, Publix and Food Lion.
"Support from the major chains locally is what gave us such a good start," Mrs. Clark said. "We did demos. We wanted people to taste our sauce. Once they tried the product, it sold itself."
The Clark's Sauce line now sells about 50,000 bottles a year in a region stretching from Myrtle Beach, S.C., to Savannah, Ga., to Athens, Ga.
"We'd love to be in the Atlanta area; we just need to set up the right distribution lines," Mr. Clark said.
The Clarks use a direct store delivery system, meaning they are responsible for keeping stores stocked. Employee Liz Hess handles the entire region.
"She works very hard," Mr. Clark said. "If a Savannah store's policy is that shelves must be stocked by 9 a.m., then she's got to leave Augusta by 4:30 a.m. to make it there and get the job done."
With the sauce's popularity growing, Mr. Clark has added three new flavors to the line: Hot N' Spicy, Honey Mustard and Grillin' Style. The Clarks say Grillin' Style - Mr. Clark's favorite - is the best seller.
"What makes our sauce so good is that we use all natural ingredients," he said. "We don't use any preservatives."
Mr. Clark recently developed a new line of three hot sauces.
"I've always collected hot sauces," he said. "When I find an interesting one, I buy two bottles: one to try and one to keep in my collection."
The new line of hot sauces will be sold only in upscale hot sauce stores and boutique food markets. Mr. Clark said he hopes to have the line ready for market within six months.
Mr. Clark said he was careful to find the perfect balance of heat and flavor.
"I love hot stuff, but if it's too hot and you can't even eat it, what's the point?" he asked. He said the three new hot sauces have a lot of heat but are still enjoyable.
The Clarks have not been able to quit their day jobs yet. Mrs. Clark is a corporate accounts manager for the southeast region for Metrocall Wireless Communications, and Mr. Clark still works a few months a year welding.
But Mr. Clark said the future looks bright.
"We want to expand into Atlanta and north Georgia," he said.
"We are also looking into building our own manufacturing facility with a retail shop in front," Mrs. Clark said.
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