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Show me the sauce

Started in 1975, Show-Me Bar-B-Q sauce is still bottled in Harry and Lina Berrier’s basement
Thursday, July 19, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:31 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Harry Berrier prepares a box of Show-Me Bar-B-Q sauce to be shipped. He began the business in 1975 and has loyal clients all over the country.

At 90, Harry Berrier still hasn’t retired. In fact, he and his wife, Lina, are busier than ever, especially during the summer. After all, it’s the best time for a barbecue, and that’s exactly the Berriers’ business — the sauce end of it, that is.

Down a gravel road, “the seventh mailbox on your right” by Lina’s count, the Berriers run Show-Me Bar-B-Q Sauce Inc. out of their basement.

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Small but impeccably clean, an entire wall is covered by boxes. Rows of bottles sit on an aluminum table in the center of the room in front of giant vats of brick-red sauce. Lina handles the bookkeeping at a desk in the corner. A watering can and a shelf of knickknacks make the scene a pleasant blend of grandma’s basement and a factory assembly line.

Harry, who taught veterinary pathology at MU for 34 years, said he began making his special sauce because he couldn’t find one he liked on the market. “There were only half a dozen brands back in ’75, and they were all full of junk,” he said, referring to fillers such as cellulose and cornstarch.

“I started out just making a little bowl for each meal, adding whatever tasted good,” he said. But in September 1975, after countless requests for the recipe from friends, the Berriers decided to open up shop.

“I brought home pharmacy scales from work one day, and that’s how it started,” Harry said.

After the sauce started to catch on, he made a visit to Kansas City to see about getting a patent. Two weeks later, Show-Me Bar-B-Q sauce was officially born.

Harry, who grew up in Missouri, said he named the business Show-Me because of the state’s motto. According to “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations,” Duncan Vandiver, a native Columbian and congressman at the time, was at a banquet in Philadelphia.

“According to the book,” Harry said, “Vandiver stood up and said, ‘I come from a state that raises corn, cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces me nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.’”

Harry paused. “And that’s what I believe. You have to show people.”

The Berriers, who said they have never paid for any type of advertising, produce 14,000 gallons of sauce each year and ship it all over the world. “I’d say the farthest away we’ve shipped is probably Japan,” Harry said.

Lina chimed in, “Don’t forget Korea, Harry.”

Show-Me Bar-B-Q can be found on the shelves at Schnuck’s, Hy-Vee, Gerbes, Eastgate IGA and Moser’s Discount Food. A pint sells for $2 to $3. “I couldn’t tell you how many customers we have,” Harry said, pulling out the drawers in a card catalog of clients, each one completely filled.

Having to ship cases of the sauce almost daily, the Berriers have hired help, usually found through family friends. Right now, it’s 15-year-old Austin Dooley who helps bottle, label, pack and ship the sauce. Dooley’s two older brothers worked for the Berriers, and he started two years ago.

Dooley, who likes the sauce best on pork steaks, started eating it at an early age. “My mom would put it on vegetables when I was a kid. It was the only way I would eat them.”

Not having any children of their own, the couple thinks of their workers and past students as their children. “That’s probably our favorite part of the business,” said Lina, who taught voice at Stephens College. She said she also loves having long conversations with customers and getting to know them.

Pulling open the top box of a large stack in the center of the room, Harry revealed the secret ingredient to his sauce. “Heinz Ketchup,” he said, pulling out a three-gallon bag. “We use seven boxes of this stuff in each 40-gallon batch.”

The sauce also contains a combination of liquid smoke, natural spices and Worcestershire sauce. “I only use pure ingredients,” Harry said.

In fact, his sauce is so pure and acidic that it doesn’t have to be refrigerated. Using his knowledge of science, Harry created a sauce with a pH of 3 because bacteria won’t grow in a pH of 4.6 or below. “This means it won’t spoil,” he said.

The Berriers donate most of the proceeds from the business to the Missouri Conservation Society. “We don’t need the money,” Lina said.

Although they ship to every state, the Berriers said they have turned down offers from major corporations. They said they want to keep the business small, local and modest.

“I just think we should do things the way we used to,” Harry said, folding his hands on his neatly creased khakis. “You have an agreement with someone and you keep it. That’s the way I’ve always done business, and I’ve never had a complaint.”

Harry said he doesn’t enter barbecue contests. “Too fancy,” he said.


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Senor Padre August 23, 2011 | 10:49 a.m.
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Senor Padre August 23, 2011 | 10:50 a.m.
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