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Raleigh-Durham

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Gateway to the South.

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A Saucy Treat

Num … num.

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Insider Profiles

Barbecue Sauce Down to a Science

Michael Lloyd"This is why we're so happy down here in the South."


Michael Lloyd is working on his Ph.D. in food science, which is why if you ask him what's unique about his NumNum Sauce, he'll use terms like "olfactory epithelium" and "formulation matrix." That's also why, when he says you've never tasted anything like the contents of his uniquely shaped bottles, you'll tend to believe him.

Although Lloyd assumed that he'd spend his workdays in a laboratory, he thought he'd be doing pharmaceutical research, not testing the nutritional content of his own barbecue sauce. But then again, Lloyd once went through a supersized helping of bad luck: He was laid off from his job, his engagement ended and even his refrigerator was empty … save for a bottle of his grandfather's secret sauce. "Those unpleasant situations turned into a blessing," he says. "I just had to add a little hard work."

Lloyd had recently visited his grandfather, who had given him an impromptu lesson in making Faison & Faison BBQ Sauce, an almost-forgotten product that Lloyd's great-grandfather, Ollie Faison, sold until the mid-1960s.

"He put all of the ingredients in a bottle and told me to shake it the whole time I was driving back to North Carolina," Lloyd says. "I put it in the fridge and didn't think about it, until one day I was hungry and didn't have anything else to eat."

He fired up the grill, squeezed it onto a steak, and that meal became the turning point in Lloyd's career path. "Boy, that was the baddest steak I ever had in my life!" he says. "I finished the last bite and called my granddaddy real quick."

Lloyd and his grandfather made several batches using Ollie's recipe, but this time they used more precise measurements. Also, while the 20th-century version and the 21st-century update had largely the same ingredients, there was at least one change.

"I replaced the ketchup with fresh tomatoes," Lloyd explains. "I didn't want anything in there that had already been processed. I wanted this sauce to come straight from the tomato."

Lloyd applied to become a member of Goodness Grows in North Carolina, an agricultural program designed to support local businesses that use North Carolina-harvested ingredients. From there, he was invited to do a cooking demonstration at a Whole Foods artisan summit, held at the Raleigh State Fairgrounds.

"I took a $20 propane grill, got some beef short ribs and just set up in the middle of the scene," he recalls. "The local buyers would walk around and sample everything, and by the end of the day I looked down and most of my bottles were gone and the rest were empty!"

Lloyd's NumNum Sauce is now available in 18 of the organic grocer's stores in the state, and he has plans to expand his barbecue-flavored empire, his product offerings (currently, there are mild and hot NumNum varieties) and his knowledge about making nutrient-dense condiments. While he would love to sell his products north of the Carolina border, at the same time he thinks he's making his own contribution to the state's famed Southern hospitality.

"People up north don't realize that this is why we're so happy down here in the South," he says, smiling. "We have NumNum Sauce and y'all don't."

Check out Michael's Raleigh.