In July 2009, Evansville natives Mike and Lisa Conway took a kind gesture to heart when a co-worker of Lisa’s at Sam’s Club suggested they bottle and distribute their homemade barbecue sauce. Persistent dabbling with seasonings and meats in their home kitchen soon was followed by the development of MC’s (Mike Conway’s) River City BBQ Sauce. It since has become a staple at all the couple’s social and family events.
Lisa began to research local bottling, labeling, and distributing companies and “all things slowly fell into place,” she says. They spent nine months in the batch process — taste testing until all Mike’s ingredients blended perfectly — and the day before they were to feature their sauce at a Sam’s Club fundraiser, it was perfected for bottling. From grassroots marketing efforts and offering samples at the fundraiser, the Conways sold nearly 100 bottles and quickly earned a loyal following.
The sauce is sweet and comparable to Chicago creation Sweet Baby Ray’s, yet it has a “distinct smoky taste that makes you feel like you’re sitting around a bon fire,” says Lisa. A lot of barbecue sauces are ketchup based; Mike wanted to start with a neutral taste — tomato puree — and add his own ingredients to the mix. “MC’s BBQ reminds me of an all-purpose sauce,” says Mike. “We put it on meat, French fries, eggrolls, pulled pork nachos, etc.”
Mike and Lisa were confident their sauce was a hit, although getting the bottle into consumers’ hands can be challenging, says Mike, who works full time at the West-Side Lowe’s. Before hiring a distributor, he says, “We spent our vacations peddling it to friends and grocers just to get people to try it.” Lisa sold bottles out of her trunk until they passed the reins to Evansville’s A & D Distributors. Now, they have customers demanding sauce by the case and inquiring about their local vendors.
Nearly a year after the encouraging words of a co-worker, MC’s BBQ Sauce became available at participating local grocery stores such as Buehler’s IGA, Old Fashioned Butcher Shoppe, Kemper’s Market in Chandler, Ind., Newburgh’s Pearson’s Rivertown Butcher Shop, and IGA in Boonville, Ind., and they hope to gain more of the market soon. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” say the Conways, who are studying catering opportunities and the potential for a grab-and-go location. “We’re going to take (our sauce) to the next level,” says Mike. “We’ve come this far, and we’re not looking back.”