From job to job, as the pay scale changed and the family grew, Karen and Jim McElwain kept adding a little of this and a little of that.
And they kept hearing the same thing over and over from friends and family.
“Can we take some home?”
Finally, they have given in.
On Saturday at The Swamp, the McElwains’ special barbecue sauce will be launched. The sauce will be available at selected concession stands during the Florida-Tennessee game and will soon be marketed at Gainesville stores with an eye toward expansion statewide and nationwide.
“It’s a dream come true,” Karen McElwain said.
When the couple was in Year One of marriage and Jim McElwain was a graduate assistant at Eastern Washington in 1988, the tradition of the sauce began. Jim would create a batch from scratch and memory and as he went from one coaching stop to another the recipe would change.
“Everywhere we went, he’d add the flavors of that area,” Karen said.
Today, it is known as Mombo3 sauce, with the “Mom” part of the name being a tribute to Jim McElwain’s mother and the number standing for the McElwain children.
“When I think of the sauce I think of friends and family and being in a good place,” the Florida head coach said. “There’s a lot of love in that sauce.”
It wasn’t until recently that Karen McElwain thought it might be a good idea to market the barbecue sauce that had been reserved for special occasions because so many people wanted it.
“I told her, ‘If you want to do this, I’ll help you do it,’ ” business partner Marty Hurwitz said. “It’s her baby.”
Hurwitz, a former Hollywood agent who once represented Raquel Welch among others, had been friends of the McElwains for 10 years. An executive coach currently living in Sarasota, Hurwitz knew that there was more to starting a product line than slapping your name on it.
But he had also been at a number of the parties and dinners where Jim McElwain was in the kitchen putting the sauce together.
“The one thing you’ve never heard from Jim or Karen is, ‘It’s good enough,’ ” Hurwitz said. “That sauce has been tinkered with because they are not afraid to change things.”
He describes it as “perfume for the mouth. Sweet at first, then tangy and finally a kick at the end.”
But even with what they call a “small-batch mentality,” duplicating the formula for mass consumption wasn’t the easiest thing in the world.
While the formula was in the recesses of the football coach’s brain, Karen had jotted it down on a sticky note while giving it to a friend. The 16 ingredients remain a secret, but there are actually more in the sauce that will be sold because some of the original ingredients can’t be duplicated for sale.
With a marketing person and a chef on board, the “Mac and Blondie” sauce (she’s the latter) had to go through several taste tests over six months before it was ready to go.
“We would send a sample FedEx to the chef (Bill Schoenleb of Dallas) and he’d send something back,” Karen said. “Although one exploded in the mail.”
The McElwains plan to donate 10 percent of all proceeds from the sauce to charities. And this won’t be the last one.
Karen said she plans to soon market her special dipping sauce.
“This Mombo3 is the first of a family of sauces,” she said.