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Soaking it up: 'The Soakin' Sauce Boss' watches his marinade draw fans

By ANITA DEBRO
August 16, 2000

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Mike English, "The Soakin' Sauce Boss," stands in front of a display of his Soakin' Sauce marinade.
Staff photo/Michael Palmer.
The Tuscaloosa News.
The tangy smells of vinegar and brown sugar envelop you as soon as you walk into the office of E&A Services on Greensboro Avenue.

It makes you wonder if there is a slab of barbecue ribs locked away in someone's desk drawer.

But the smells are actually coming from the tiny room where a homegrown meat marinade is made.

Tuscaloosa native Mike English just introduced his "Original Soakin' Sauce Marinade" to the market last year, and it already has won two awards at the Atlanta Gourmet Food Show. The sauce, which sells for about $6.95, has become popular with barbecue grillers in 18 states.

"But it's not just for barbecue," said English, who calls himself The Soakin' Sauce Boss. "The marinade is tremendously versatile."

English has a salesman's pitch. He'll tell you Soakin' Sauce's many uses and urge you to try it as soon as you get home.

As the yellow label on the one-quart jug of Original Soakin' Sauce reads, the marinade is good for chicken, pork, beef, fish and vegetables.

The marinade, which has no MSG and is low in sodium, can be used to prepare meats for cooking or to spice up already-cooked leftovers.

English perfected his marinade recipe for the last eight years. An avid outdoor griller, he often drenched all of his meats in the sauce and had friends and family sample the food.

His wife, Judy English, a retired teacher, finally convinced him last May to bottle the sauce and sell it. They formed Southern Heritage Foods and housed the business inside of E&A Services, his business that inspects handicap accessible sites.

English's daughter, who he said is a Southern history buff, came up with the name Soakin' Sauce during a family vacation in Florida.

Mike and Judy English and business partners Ariss Faught and Joe Smith worked with small business consultant Sharon Standifer to develop a business plan and choose the packaging for the sauce. Almost all of the ingredients and the packaging used for Original Soakin' Sauce are made in Alabama.

"I had never been in the food business before," English said while sitting in his office. "All of a sudden we were in the marinade business."

English's success wasn't exactly sudden, but in little more than a year the business went from creating a concept to stocking Soakin' Sauce on the shelves of 180 retailers across the country.

Rob Colburn, owner of Northport Pharmacy, was one of the first in Tuscaloosa County to stock Soakin' Sauce.

"As soon as I heard about [the product] I put it in," said Colburn, who has known English for about 12 years. "It's a good seller."

John Ricks, owner of Ricks True Value Hardware, displays Soakin' Sauce next to barbecue grills. His store has carried the marinade since November 1999.

"I tasted a sample at Merry Market and was really impressed," Ricks said. He originally ordered one case and quickly sold all 12 bottles in that same month.

The uses for Soakin' Sauce keep pouring in from people who have tried the product. On the company's Web site (www.soakinsauce.com) there are about 30 recipes that use the marinade.

Standifer, a vegetarian, created one of the more popular Soakin' Sauce recipes, Marinated Cole Slaw, which replaces vinegar with Soakin' Sauce.

"As a vegetarian, I got tired of people telling me how great it was on meat," she said. "One night I ran out of vinegar for a marinated cole slaw. I added Soakin' Sauce and it was wonderful."

The research and development team at Southern Heritage Foods - English, Standifer, Faught and Smith - are regularly developing new recipes for the marinade including one for a marinated cheese ball and no-fat salad dressing.

In preparing for a deer show in Birmingham, Judy English and Faught created the four-ingredient deer chili recipe, and they are also developing more recipes for wild game.

The Soakin' Sauce Boss and his cooking team will attend the Buckmasters Show in Montgomery later this week.

English said he is trying to grow the business slowly, by choosing to sell Soakin' Sauce in smaller meat markets, gourmet food shops and unconventional retailers like hardware stores and pharmacies.

Major retailers have called about carrying the marinade, but English said he'd rather not pay the fees associated with stocking a product.

English also works with the Alabama International Trade Center at the University of Alabama to export Soakin' Sauce.

But, for now, the company will remain small and homegrown, he said.

"We've had fun doing this and met a lot of people," English said.

Locations where the sauce is stocked are on the Web site, or you can call 345-3857.

A CHICKEN IN EVERY POT
Original Soakin' Sauce Marinade
4 pounds of Chicken breasts and thighs
1/4 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 medium-large bell pepper, sliced lengthwise
1 medium-large onion, cut any way you like

Place the chicken in the slow cooker and add 1/2 cup of marinade per pound of chicken. Add other ingredients. Set the cooker on low and cover. 6 to 8 hours later, turn the cooker to high. One hour later, uncover and serve.

AUNT SHARON'S COLE SLAW
2 heads of cabbage, thinly sliced
1/2 onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
4 stalks celery, thinly sliced
2 carrots, grated
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup Original Soakin' Sauce Marinade

Mix all raw vegetables in a large bowl. Salt and pepper to taste.

Mix sugar, vegetable oil and marinade and bring to a boil.

Pour hot liquid over vegetables. Mix well and cover with lid. Marinate overnight in refrigerator.

DEER CHILI
2 pounds venison, ground
1 cup chopped onion
1 large green pepper, chopped
2 141/2-ounce cans tomatoes, undrained and chopped
1 16-ounce can kidney beans, undrained
1 16-ounce can tomato sauce
1 cup of Original Soakin' Sauce Marinade

Brown venison in oil in a Dutch oven. Add onion, green pepper; cook 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 11/2 hours. Makes 21/2 quarts.

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