Elaine and Jim Gehris of Barto started Hawg House BBQ less than a year ago and already have garnered national honors at the World Series of BBQ sauce competition held in September in Kansas City, Missouri. Hawg House's Sloppy 2nds chipotle BBQ won second place in the specialty division and fifth overall in the competition.
When you think of famous places that make BBQ sauce, Barto doesn’t immediately come to mind. But Jim and Elaine Gehris of Niantic Lane are working to change that.
What started as a kitchen experiment when the Gehrises ran out of the condiment has grown into the Hawg House BBQ company, whose Sloppy 2nds chipotle sauce ranked No. 5 overall at the World Series of BBQ’s 26th annual BBQ Sauce Contest in September.
It all started when Elaine forgot to buy sauce at the store. “We were cooking on the grill,” she said, “and I had recalled that there was a family member who made their own BBQ sauce from scratch, so I said, ‘Let’s try it,’ and we started throwing stuff together. After the third or fourth ingredient, we said, ‘We better write this down,’ and thank God we did.”
Jim shared some of the BBQ leftovers with a co-worker who was so blown away by the flavor that she asked to buy some. It wasn’t long after that word spread about the homemade sauce and Jim realized he needed to make a legitimate business.
He then worked with the township, regulators, inspectors and distributors to start his business and install a commercial kitchen at his property. Hawg House LLC became a licensed company in July, “and then we got ready for Bowers Chili Festival, which was huge,” Jim said. The pair made 1,200 pints of sauce in two weeks – while working full-time jobs – and could barely keep up with demand.
With the early success of the business came some more experimentation; Elaine, who says she didn’t even like BBQ sauce to begin with, suggested that they try making a chipotle sauce. That sauce was then entered into the World Series of BBQ sauce competition in Kansas City, Mo., where it ranked second in the specialty category (even beating out Guy Fieri’s Root Beer BBQ sauce) and fifth overall out of about 260 entries.
Now Hawg House offers six different varieties of their Sloppy 2nds sauce, so named, Jim says, because it’s sloppy (as any good BBQ sauce should be) and “you always want to come back for seconds.” Their original sauce is a sweet and mild tomato-based sauce, and they also make a lower-sugar version of the original. For BBQ lovers seeking some heat, Hawg House has a spicy and a hot version of the sauce, and for those looking for something a little different, there is the award-winning chipotle sauce (Jim’s favorite) and a peach BBQ sauce (Elaine’s favorite). They also make pork and chicken dry rubs.
Currently, Sloppy 2nds sauce can be found at Boneyard Joe’s House of Great Sandwiches and BBQ (148 Shoemaker Road in Pottstown), which also uses the sauce in their recipes, and at the Echo Hill Country Store (244 Dryville Road in Fleetwood).
Looking to the future, the Gehrises are excited to see where their continued experimentation will lead. Plans are in the works for new sauces, including honey, peach-bourbon and mango flavors, as well as additional rubs. The pair is also starting to offer other products at the various craft and food shows they attend, such as soy candles and embroidered dishtowels.
They are also working on a website so they can take online orders and they have a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/thehawghouse where people can stay up-to-date on the various shows they attend. Jim also eventually plans to become certified to cook and serve food at events, with the ultimate goal of having a restaurant one day.
“It never crossed our minds [that we would have a BBQ sauce business],” Jim said. Modestly, he claims that the pair are not BBQ “gurus.” However, he admits, “I will tell you, if I get [a person] to try it, if we can get [a person] to taste it, 90 percent of the time I have someone walking away with it.”