By Lisa Capobianco
For years, salon owner Todd Zurell brought homemade barbeque sauce for friends and family at pig roasts. Guests felt so amazed at Zurell’s creation that they suggested he find a way to bring his sauce from the stovetop to the shelves at the local supermarket.
“I’d always bring my barbeque sauce that I made myself, and people couldn’t believe that I made it,” said Zurell, the co-owner of Salon Zurell in Plantsville. “They would always say, ‘you need to bottle this.’”
After hearing the suggestions enough times, Zurell decided to look into establishing his own barbecue sauce company. Zurell found a website called bbqsaucereviews.com, and after submitting his recipe online, the reviews gave his sauce four out of five stars.
At that point, Zurell decided to take his creation to the next level, and discovered how to move his sauce from the stovetop to a real bottle. After tweaking the recipe, finding a factory in New Haven to manufacture the product, working with a graphic designer on the package label and having the product tested in a lab for nutritional facts, Zurell now has an official bar code displayed on a glass bottle—a bottle he calls his own.
His signature sauce, called “G-Pa’s Blazin Bourbon BBQ Sauce,” has a package label displaying a rooster standing on top of a pig with a white, brick background—a classic and country-like style Zurell wanted to present. “G-Pa” is a nickname that Zurell’s granddaughter calls him.
“My approach to barbecue sauce was to make something that’s…a New England sauce because we made it here and I wanted it to be a little bit different than anywhere else,” said Zurell, adding that he would ultimately like to see his product reach consumers throughout New England. “For me, this is my version of a New England barbecue sauce.”
Although Zurell had to tweak some ingredients of his original recipe before moving his sauce from the stovetop to the factory, the end result was a natural, gluten free sauce with less sugar than other sauces on the market. From apple cider vinegar to brown sugar and molasses to bourbon whiskey extract and smoked salt, Zurell’s product has a variety of ingredients that makes the sauce sweet upon first taste with a kick of heat at the end.
“I wanted to make sure I used no high fructose corn syrup, keep it as natural as possible with good quality ingredients,” said Zurell, adding that the sauce pairs well with any kind of red meat, especially brisket. “It has a sweetness but we get it from brown sugar and from molasses—just real ingredients.”
Zurell’s sauce even appealed to one of his coworkers, who does not like barbecue sauce. Brianna Charbonneau, a hairdresser at Salon Zurell, said once she tried the sauce, she has been hooked ever since.
“I don’t like barbecue sauce or spicy food, and I love it,” said Charbonneau, adding that she has a bottle at home. “This one just changed my mind.”
Sold at $5.99 per bottle in his salon, the initial batch of G-Pa’s Blazin Bourbon was made last September with a total of 600 bottles. Zurell said his next goal is to have his product sold in local markets by mid-March, just in time for barbecue season.
“We probably sold at least six cases—over 60 bottles,” said Zurell. “I want it in the IGAs, I want to get in Whole Foods…all those smaller-type markets and stores are where I’d like to start.”
Meanwhile, Zurell is also in the process of creating a commercial for a campaign on Kickstarter (an online fundraising platform) with the help of a camera crew and other people starring in the video to promote the product. Once he finalizes the commercial, Zurell can begin the Kickstarter fundraising campaign.
Besides the commercial, Zurell’s next product development is his “G-Pa’s Almost All-Purpose Dry Rub,” which also received positive reviews. From fish and chicken to pork to vegetables, Zurell said his dry rub pairs well with almost anything. Zurell said
“I have it ready to go, I just need to find a company that can pack it for me,” said Zurell. “People who like spicy food really love the dry rub cause it just has a great kick…I think that eventually may outsell my sauce.”
Once his sauce reaches a larger array of consumers, Zurell said he hopes his product will become one New England can call its own. He also has other flavors of sauce in the making, including orange ginger.
“I cook food because I like to cook food, and I like to make people happy, and that goes for whether I’m doing hair or makeup or working as a photographer—capturing an image that makes people feel good about themselves,” said Zurell, adding that he feels proud to have a team helping him turn his creation into a success. “To be able to develop something from scratch yourself is just a good accomplishment and I think people will appreciate a good quality sauce.”