Dream in a Bottle

Dining A La King: Elkhart Man Bottles a Dream – by Marshall King

ELKHART — Chuck Fewell isn’t unique in making a barbecue sauce.

It’s more rare to go through the process — you could even say hassle — of getting it bottled so that he can sell it.

“I used to cook and do barbecues and I guess I just have a passion for food,” said the creator of Papa Chuck’s Original Barbecue Sauce, which is now available locally at a handful of stores.

In the early 1980s, he started making his own sauce. For a year or two, he fiddled with the recipe and then started making large batches for friends and family. “Everyone said, ‘I like that sauce. I like that sauce,’” he said.

He’d serve it on ribs, pulled pork and fresh hams. Fewell likes to season that cut and slow cook it before slathering on sauce.

The tomato-based sauce is thinner than some brands and smells of hickory smoke. A tomato base comes from chili sauce and gets brown sugar and onion that has been minced and sauteed. He doesn’t added powdered ingredients, though Papa Chuck’s does have liquid smoke flavoring.

About 18 months ago, he started researching bottling companies and found Stage Coach Sauces in Palatka, Fla. “It’s a nice family-owned bottling company,” Fewell said. “They pride themselves on making it very consistent.”

They used his recipe to create test batches as he worked on making the label with Scott Franko of Franko Design in Elkhart. That company had done the logo for Mike’s Fencing, the other business Fewell owns. Fewell chose from dozens of potential labels.

He had more choices to make nearly 30 years after settling on the recipe. He opted for glass bottles rather than plastic to prolong the shelf life of the sauce and make it possible for someone to heat the bottle and the sauce. He picked the seal and cap colors. He got a trademark.

He gave away bottles and bottles from a pallet that arrived from Florida. A pitmaster from Indianapolis agreed to use the sauce on barbecue for the wedding for Fewell’s daughter.

A second, 600-gallon batch arrived in bottles and he started the work of getting others to sell it.

Rentown Store in Bremen has it. “They’re just going through it like water, which is fine,” Fewell said.

D.C. Meats in Osceola, Shelton’s in Niles and Mill’s Grocery in Union all have it. Other stores could get it soon, including several Wakarusa shops. Fewell said he has had conversations with a local supermarket chain about stocking the sauce, which retails for around $6 a bottle.

He was going to work on getting a marinade recipe bottled, but said that conversations with Whole Foods has prompted him to work on an organic version. Several ingredients in the original sauce would prevent Whole Foods from selling it and if he can tweak those, he would have a version that would appeal to another niche. The marinade and a spicy version could come later.

Fewell, 57, calls this a “retirement project,” so he’s not rushing. He wants to do it right and not have to backtrack.

When you’ve been making a sauce for 30 years, to have it in a bottle with a label is an accomplishment. Your friends and family are familiar with the flavor. The question becomes whether others will want to pay for it.

Barbecue sauces are like secrets. Many cooks have at least one and sometimes they’re good.

Papa Chuck’s Original is a mild barbecue sauce, which means that you can take it to almost any party, use it in a variety of ways. It’s the creation of a guy from Elkhart who likes to cook and has taken his love to market.

It’s his dream in a bottle.

Visit Papa Chuck’s online at www.PapaChucksBBQ.com

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