Byron Jackson has always liked spicy foods, but he says his affinity for hot sauces sprung from his days as a basketball player on the UWM Panthers.
"We'd be on the road, especially if we were down South, and in the hot shops you could sample all these wonderful hot sauces from around the country," says Jackson, the owner and founder of MBF Sauces. "They all had a unique theme, almost like microbrews."
One particular sauce caught Jackson's attention, a now defunct Jamaican sauce called Inner Beauty. About a dozen years ago, just a few after Jackson's playing days were over, he began experimenting with his own recipes. Now, MBF Sauces are available to both restaurants and consumers, alike.
Jackson isn't a chef, but he knows what he likes. He says he was fed up with the run-of-the-mill sauces, and thought that he could develop a sauce with the same detail and care that microbreweries display when making small batches of beer.
Now, Jackson rents a small commercial kitchen on the Northwest Side with his girlfriend, producing sauces for whatever work order he has at the time. Jackson makes 12 versions, "mutts and purebreds." MBF, he says, stands for "man's best friend."
"The 'purebreds' are the standard sauces," says Jackson, "and the 'mutts' are the sauces that are experimental, seasonal, or we add a little of this and a little of that."
Each of the sauces, ranging from mild to extremely spicy, are named after breeds of dogs. Jackson's personal favorite, he says, is the "Bull Mastiff," a blackberry habanero scotch wine sauce. "Dalmatian" and "Bloodhound" are coming out soon, says Jackson. The 5-oz. bottles he sells in retail outlets range from $5 to $7, which is right in line with similar products.
Locally, you can buy MBF Sauces at Beans and Barley, and you can use them on your food at a few places around town, like Comet Cafe, Riverfront Pizza and Club Paragon.
You can also buy the sauces through their Web site or pick them up at local events like the upcoming Strawberry Festival in Cedarburg.
Says Jackson, "It's cool at the stands because we get to visit our customers and meet new people who can sample the product right there."
Jackson says his sauces can be used liberally on any foods, but certain flavors go better with certain foods. Chihuahua, naturally, works well with Mexican dishes -- though Jackson says he likes that mild blend on breakfast food.
Jackson says the hot sauce industry is thriving, and thousands of companies make hot sauces, on all ends of the spicy spectrum -- called the Scoville Scale in the industry.
"The main thing is that when you're dealing with extreme heat, you have to match the flavor, as well, because the heat can overtake. If you're going to eat hot sauce, you should find one that matches you -- rather than just going for the hottest one," says Jackson.
For Jackson, who was born and raised in Milwaukee, making hot sauces is now a full-time job. He only regrets that he didn't start sooner.
Says Jackson, "What's going to take this product to another level is growing organically, but also growing through restaurants. I want to (be in) 100 restaurants by next year."
One thing, however, that Jackson doesn't plan to do is expand to other types of food.
"I'm like the 'colonel'," he says. "They do chicken, I do hot sauce."
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.