Paul Lees and Chris Glaister didn’t eat much barbecue growing up in rainy England.
"If you have a barbecue in England," Lees says, "it means some poor chef is getting very wet."
But that all changed when the duo ended up in California and met Leigh Zalusky, 29, whose family owns a house on Clear Lake. The friends spent the summer of 2011 on that lakeside deck, experimenting with a smoker and creating their own barbecue sauce, after becoming disenchanted with what they found on store shelves.
Now the trio — a product designer and two wind turbine engineers — have become barbecue sauce entrepreneurs, raising nearly $50,000 through Kickstarter to produce a sweet-and-spicy blend they’ve dubbed Cobra Strength Honey Badger BBQ Sauce.
They blasted through more than a dozen iterations before settling on the final recipe, a blend of honey, habaneros, vinegar and tomato -- perfect for slathering on anything from the grill or smoker, be it wild boar or burgers. They also use the sauce in spicy little meatballs called Badger Balls. And just about everything else. Honey badger, as the viral video tells us, don’t care.
"I eat it on anything," says Lees, 33. "I make a fried egg sandwich, and it gets Honey Badger BBQ Sauce."
After the sauce was a hit with friends, the young men ran with the idea, conceiving a bottle shaped like the aggressive little honey badger popularized in a YouTube video. When the joking turned serious, they used Kickstarter to raise funds.
"It was driven by the idea of having this great sauce that really kicks your ass," says Glaister, 34. "What more could it deserve than a honey badger-shaped bottle?"
They spent months designing a honey badger bottle compatible with a manufacturing line. They perfected the production-scale recipe, phasing out high fructose corn syrup and sodium benzoate. But they hit a roadblock in January when their first production batch was withdrawn because mold was discovered in some bottles.
Honey badger clearly doesn’t care for mold, and a second, successful production run was completed in April. The next step is getting the sauce onto local store shelves. For now, you can buy the sauce directly from their website, www.honeybadgersauce.com, for $6.99, along with a limited-run, face-melting and wallet-draining Triple Cobra Strength Sauce, which costs $60. They’re planning a slightly less spicy Double Cobra Strength version, along with a hot sauce down the road.
In the meantime, keep an eye out for these guys, who pop up for impromptu barbecues at public parks and outdoor events, such as San Francisco’s recent Bring Your Own Big Wheel race.
"That’s the kind of thing we’re trying to put out there: Go out and have a great time," Lees says. "That’s what a honey badger does."
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