Article published in Cecil Whig, 2004
Elkton-area woman creates recipe for success
* Lou Ann Burns markets her own brand of barbecue sauce
By:Carl Hamilton , firstname.lastname@example.org 09/03/2004
[Associated Press Photo - 2004]
The perfect barbecue sauce has a balanced blend of robust flavor and tongue-tingling zip, according to Lou Ann Burns.
But Burns couldn't find that elusive sauce on supermarket shelves in Texas, of all places, during the 1960s.
So she concocted her own.
"I always had to doctor up whatever I bought from the store,'' Burns said. "I love to barbecue -- chicken, ribs, even seafood, you name it. I take my barbecue pretty seriously."
"One day,'' she continued, "I just started throwing together things out of my kitchen and I came up with this barbecue sauce, the sauce I could never find in stores."
Burns' homemade sauce satisfied her persnickety palate for more than 35 years, as well as those of her friends and family.
Now it's titillating the taste buds of hundreds of paying customers in the tri-state area. Under the registered trademark of Antie Lou's Bar-B-Que, her sauce is sold in seven stores in this region.
Having recently retired from the nursing profession, Burns plans to focus more time and effort on spreading her barbecue sauce business over an even wider area.
"It's unreal how this all started,'' said Burns, 66, while sitting in the kitchen of her Elkton area home Tuesday. "I still can't believe people are buying my barbecue sauce."
According to Tim Herman, co-owner of Herman's Quality Meat Shoppe in Newark, Del., Antie Lou's Bar-B-Que pushed other brands off the shelves about four years ago, back when Burns merely dabbled as an entrepreneur.
"We use it exclusively at our shop because it sells so well,'' Herman said. "We used to carry three or four other sauces, but they stopped selling when we introduced her (Burns') barbecue sauce."
Herman's shop caters to gourmet chefs and other discerning patrons, Herman noted.
"The fact that (Burns') barbecue sauce sells so well here is really a tribute to her," Herman said. "We're a specialty shop, so our customers have pretty high standards. A lot of cooks come in here and buy her sauce. We've only heard good things, good feedback."
So Antie Lou's Bar-B-Que is cooking in the sales department at Herman's. But does Herman slather the stuff on his own chicken and pork?
"That's all we use at home,'' Herman said. "Her sauce is the perfect blend. It has a little bit of a bite to it, but it's not too hot. It has plenty of flavor, but it's not too sweet. Somehow, she came up with a recipe that pleases everyone's taste buds."
Closer to home, Antie Lou's Bar-B-Que sales also are sizzling at State Line Liquors in Elkton, according to co-owner Robert Murray.
"Her barbecue sauce does very well,'' Murray said. "We have a whole line of salsas and barbecue sauces, hundreds of them, and her barbecue sauce is one that really sells."
Murray also endorses Antie Lou's Bar-B-Que as a consumer, commenting, "It's pretty good stuff. It has plenty of flavor and a little bit of a kick to it."
The brand name, Antie Lou's Bar-B-Que, is an affectionate gesture to Burns' niece, Michele Medley, who is now 51 and lives in Alaska.
"When she was a girl, she used to always say, 'Antie Lou, you're going to have your sauce on store shelves someday," Burns recalls.
Burns shared her sauce with friends and family over the years while living in Houston, Texas, and several of them urged her to market it.
But Burns was raising her two daughters as a single parent. She also was busy as a cold pantry chef at the Houston Yacht Club, which used her homemade barbecue sauce for its regatta feasts. Then she started nursing school, making her even busier.
In the late 1980s, however, with grown children and a little more time on her hands, Burns decided to make her sauce market-worthy.
First, because Burns is a pinch-here-and-a-dash-there kind of cook, she tweaked her almost improvisational recipe.
"I figured it would have to taste the same every time if I put it on the market. Every time I made a batch, I wrote down what I did,'' Burns said. "When I didn't like it, I'd fine-tune it some more."
Burns made at least 10 different batches of sauce before she hit upon a balanced blend of flavor and spice. So she finally had the perfect recipe.
But still, Burns didn't market her ideal cornucopia of ingredients until 1995. It happened shortly after she moved to Cecil County to be near her daughter, Andrea, 41, her husband, Kent, and their children.
Andrea encouraged her greatly. "She even drew the logo,'' Burns said, referring to the "Antie Lou's" banner draped across a horseshoe.
It appears on Burns' business cards and on her sauce labels, which boast, "Texas Best," and instruct "for poultry, pork & seafood . . . in or outside."
Burns and her daughter also had to work their way down piles of paperwork -- applications for a registered trademark, health department approval, a bar code . . .
"I even had to send my barbecue sauce to Lancaster (Pa.) Labs, so they could do a chemical analysis on it and determine its shelf life," Burns noted.
And they had to make countless phone calls and conduct extensive research to competitively price the sauce and to find a suitable bulk supplier of containers.
They also had to find acceptable bulk suppliers of tomato concentrate, onions, sugar, vinegar, corn syrup, hickory flavoring and other sauce ingredients.
* * * *
When her sauce finally became a legitimate product, Burns made huge batches in the kitchen of the North East Volunteer Fire Hall.
"You need the room and the proper equipment, big kettles and stuff like that,'' Burns said, explaining why she didn't cook in her own kitchen.
It took about five hours for two people to produce 20 cases of sauce, she said. Each case contains 12 pint-sized jars, she added.
Then Burns hawked her sauce at stores, farmers markets and other places, including Perry Point Veterans' Hospital where she worked as a nurse.
She typically let the product speak for itself, giving free samples everywhere she went.
These days, with steady sales at seven stores and plans to expand her business, Burns pays a commercial kitchen in Pennsylvania to make her sauce.
Using six 100-gallon kettles for cooking, the commercial kitchen (Stoltzfas) produced 60 cases of Antie Lou's Bar-B-Que last fall and 100 more cases in May.
Commercial kitchen or no, Burns still strives for that homemade taste. No batch of her sauce goes out the door until Burns gives the OK.
"I go up there to make sure it tastes right, that it's consistent,'' Burns said. "I quality assure it. They don't jar any of it until I taste-test it."
She also safeguarded herself against copycats. "The (commercial kitchen) company signed a confidentiality agreement. It protects my recipe,'' Burns said.
She stores the remaining cases in her basement, her distribution center if you will. When her inventory gets low, she contacts the commercial kitchen.
Burns estimates that she has sold 500 cases in 10 years. One of her biggest accounts, Halda's in Wilmington, Del., sells about six cases a month. Herman's sells about five cases monthly.
But business aside, what does Burns think of her sauce?
"The marvelous thing about it is it's so versatile,'' Burns said. "One lady I know uses it as a base for her turkey soup. Another one uses it in her spaghetti sauce."
Back when Burns lived in Texas, some neighborhood children found a pretty straightforward use for her sauce.
"They told me, 'Mrs. Burns, we just made barbecue sandwiches with your sauce. We put it on just bread and it was good," Burns said.
Click this image, scroll to the bottom for 2016 Contest Results Tally Sheets
2016, Antie Lou's Barbecue sauce made history. Antie Lou's came in 1st Place of 98 entries in the "Specialty Sauce" Category. 3rd Place "Overall" - out of 450 entries.
After a very good contest placement - 4th place in 2015 - the win is bittersweet, Lou Ann Burns died in February of 2015. In life, she never knew how well her sweet and spicy sauce is loved, all of her friends and relatives assure me that she really does know....
I miss you Mom, I wish you were here to share this milestone with me. Your beloved sauce, has finally made history.
I always said it was ..."soon to be famous"... well Mom, we did it, you are famous!
Antie Lou's - 1st Place Winner
*** Specialty Category ***
3rd Place Overall !!
2016 - Best Sauce on the Planet Contest
Sponsored by American Royal Association, Kansas City Barbecue Society member.
The right combination of sweet and spicy can be addictive – just ask barbecue lovers across the country who seem to slather on Antie Lou’s Bar-B-Que sauce faster than Andrea Haley can make it.
“I get calls from all over, and they’re frantic to get more,” Haley said. “When people like it, they can’t live without it.”
Haley, who lives on Nottingham Road in Newark, has been carrying on the legacy of her mother Lou Ann Burns’ famous sauce for the last 10 years and recently entered it in the American Royal World Series of Barbecue Sauce Contest in Kansas City. Her mom’s sauce won first place in the specialty category and third place overall, beating out 450 sauces from 36 states and three countries.
But the history behind Antie Lou’s Bar-B-Que is just as rich as the flavor. Burns created the sauce in the 1960s, when she lived in Texas. Haley said her mother wasn’t able to get to the grocery store often, so she used whatever she had in the kitchen to create the perfect combination of sweetness and spice.
“She was a really good cook so she would just throw things together, and that’s how it came about,” Haley said.
For years, Burns’ gave away her homemade sauce to friends and family in whatever she had lying around – plastic containers, milk jugs, etc. – but didn’t formally market it until 1995, shortly after she moved to Elkton, Md., to be near her daughter. It was there that Antie Lou’s Bar-B-Que officially hit the shelves.
Haley said business was booming, but her mother eventually decided to leave Maryland.
“She moved back to Texas and all of her customers started calling me, so I called my mom in Houston and said, ‘Mom, what do I do?’ She said, ‘Well, you’re going to have to make a batch if you want to sell it,’” Haley said. “So that’s what I did.”
She wanted to keep the legacy going, so she started selling the sauce under Haley Food Products in Elkton in 2006, and then transferred the business to Delaware when she moved to Newark in 2011.
Even after her mother died in February 2015 at the age of 76, Haley never stopped. Today, the sauce is manufactured by *Dutch Valley Food Development, New Holland, PA.
Haley takes orders by phone and email and also sells the sauce to stores and restaurants in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In Newark, barbecue lovers can find Antie Lou’s at Herman’s Quality Meat Shoppe on Cleveland Avenue and on the crispy pork belly confit and slow-cooked baby back ribs at Skipjack Dining in the Shoppes at Louviers.
She orders roughly four pallets a year, which can each hold 200 gallon jugs or 102 cases of 12 16-ounce jars of sauce. Haley will also ship to anyone in the country who loves her mom’s sauce, but delivery is free within Cecil County and a 10-mile radius of her Newark home for orders more than $30.
She said people who knew her mom and have loved the sauce since the beginning still place orders today.
“I call those her legacy customers,” she said. “They miss her and tell me stories when they call. She was well-loved for more reasons than just her sauce.”
Her mom believed in offering one flavor of sauce, but Haley thinks there is room to expand. She is also working on a new label with a refreshed logo that she plans to roll out this fall and is considering an all-natural version of the sauce. In addition to the jars and gallons, she’s thinking about a squeeze bottle, too.
Haley said she knows her mom would be proud if she could see the business today and knew her prized barbecue sauce was truly award-winning after placing third in the Kansas City competition. But some of her legacy customers, like State Line Liquors in Elkton, seem to think she already does.
“They told me, ‘Lou Ann must be up there pulling some strings,’” Haley said, smiling. “I think they’re right.”
To order Antie Lou’s Bar-B-Que sauce or find out where it’s sold, visit www.antielous.com.
*Manufacture changed January 2017