This article appeared in The Birmingham News on July 18, 2001

SOAKING IT UP

JO ELLEN O'HARA
News staff writer

For years, Mark English had used his special "soaking sauce" when he grilled at his home in Tuscaloosa. And for years, his friends had encouraged him to bottle the concoction and sell it.

It was only when his wife, Judy, was nearing retirement as a teacher in the Tuscaloosa County School System, that the couple began to talk seriously about doing so.

They knew their soaking sauce, which they have discovered can be used in many recipes, was very good. They say that over the years, they have had few regrets on invitations to their home for barbecues with English at the grill.

Since English already had a business that took his normal workday time, the couple wanted to be sure that "this would be something we wanted to spend our spare time doing," English says.

After much thought and talk and prayer, the Englishes and two close friends and associates in business, Arrice Faught and Joe Smith, formed the company that today produces Original Soakin' Sauce Marinade.

That was some 20 months ago. With a small work force and a large amount of work, Soakin' Sauce now is sold in 27 states.

The quartet has gone to huge food shows and gotten attention. As an example, they went to the Atlanta Gourmet Food Show in 1999 and came away with awards in two major categories: Best Sauce and Best New Low-Fat Healthy Product. That show is attended by about 10,000 buyers from all over the country.

Being novices in the food business, they say they stumbled into another market when someone asked, "How is it with wild game?"

The answer, "I don't know," didn't apply for long.

Since Mrs. Faught's husband and sons are hunters, the Faughts were enlisted to try the Soakin' Sauce with game. They tried it and loved it.

The next venture the entrepreneurs tried was displaying the sauce at the Buckmasters Expo in Montgomery. They took a trailer filled with jugs of sauce for the several-day event, but after the first day, they had to return to Tuscaloosa to restock. They returned to the Expo,where they sold out again.

The group put cooked cubes of Boston Butt in the marinade and served it heated from a slow cooker. There were unending lines at their display throughout the Expo.

Mrs. Faught also developed a four-ingredient venison chili. The recipe is one of seven provided on a small hang-tag attached to each bottle of sauce. One hunter declared the recipe delivered "the best venison chili I have ever had in my life."

Versatile sauce, marinade:

English says that one of the many attributes of the sauce and he is unabashedly proud of it is that it goes with so many meats as well as other foods.

He and his partners will tell you that it goes well with beef, pork, poultry, fish, wild game and vegetables. Vegetables? Yes.

There are several ways that vegetables can be enhanced by the sauce:

An array of sliced tomatoes, onions and mushrooms can be sprinkled rather generously with the sauce. If you wish, wrap the vegetables in aluminum foil and heat them on the grill for a short time.

Cole slaw. With usual ingredients for slaw, make a dressing of sugar, vegetable oil and Soakin' Sauce. Sharon Standridge, a friend and restaurant consultant, says she made the cole slaw for her church's dinner one evening, and due to the popularity of the dish, she spent the entire evening confined to the kitchen, grating ingredients and mixing more dressing.

How about a fruit dip using Soakin' Sauce? A recipe is provided on the company Web site. The sauce combines smoothed jam with a couple of tablespoons of Soakin' Sauce, then served with a variety of fruit, such as cantaloupe, honey dew, strawberries.

The meat marinade is easy as can be. English says simply place meat in a zippered plastic bag, then pour in Soakin' Sauce. Refrigerate, lift out the marinade and bake, broil, grill or fry.

English recommends letting steak marinate in the refrigerator two to three hours, being sure to shake and flip the plastic bag occasionally.

Even shelled pecans can be enhanced by the addition of some Soakin' Sauce. Simply marinate pecans in the sauce overnight in the refrigerator. Drain and place on a cookie sheet. Add dashes of seasoned salt and bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.

Cheese Dip gets an added jolt with some tablespoons of Soakin' Sauce as well.

English says the Web site has proven to be a great source of recipe ingenuity. And, he adds, that if the donor agrees to it, the recipe will be named for him or her when it appears on the Web site.

What's in it?:

With all its versatility, what's in the sauce that seems to be catching the imagination of many cooks?

English says the base is apple cider vinegar, with brown sugar, lemon juice, dehydrated onion, natural flavors and spices. It's low in sodium, fat free and contains no MSG and no artificial preservatives.

He says the vinegar in the sauce breaks down outer fibers of the meat. Different reactions to protein in the meat brings about different flavors.

The sauce is made by a cold-mix method, and a 50-gallon vat is used to mix it. "We can make and dispense a vat every 21 minutes," English says.

Coming soon, however, are three vats that will hold a total of 1,200 gallons, bringing the volume of sauce that can be made at one time dramatically higher.

"We used to make it in a five-gallon bucket," English says.

All the ingredients are bought in Alabama, and the jugs are made in the state, too.The four partners contributed their own money to the sauce venture and any profits made since the business started have been put right back in the company. "We put up the operating capital, and we haven't borrowed a dime," English says.

The Internet has become the product's best sales tool. English says that in the past year, there have been 61,000 hits on the Web site.

In addition to recipes, the site tells the story of the company and lists places where Soakin' Sauce can be purchased.

In Birmingham, Original Soakin' Sauce is available at Stignani's Market on Broadway in Homewood and at Southeastern Meats locations.

Many other stores in Alabama sell the product, but you will not find it in supermarkets. Most supermarkets charge fees for space called slotting fees, so the people at Soakin' Sauce decided to place their produce in specialty stores, small local markets, kitchen shops and meat markets.

An eight-ounce bottle of sauce costs $4.50. A quart jug costs between $6.50 and $7.50.

English says an eight-ounce bottle will marinate two pounds of meat while a quart can marinate eight pounds.

Looking ahead:

Big dreams are floating around the small plant off Greensboro Avenue in Tuscaloosa.

Just ahead is the BASSMasters, for which the partners volunteered to prepare Soakin' Sauce-flavored cole slaw. When they accepted, they didn'trealize the attendance would hit 2,000 guests.

You'll find a Soakin' Sauce booth at Christmas Village Nov. 8-11 at the BJCC Exhibition Hall. Booths also are planned for similar events in Montgomery and Nashville, and at Buckarama in Atlanta.