Arsha Jones and her husband Charles are natives of the D.C. area. Growing up, Mumbo Sauce was a part of who they were. They moved to Annapolis after having kids, but were no longer able to find the sauce. Arsha would make the sauce for the kids and they loved it. One day she had a light bulb moment and said, “I wonder if I could bottle this and sell it?”
After being featured by the Washington Post and subsequently receiving thousands of orders, they realized that this could be something big. And it is well on its way to being just that!
Arsha was gracious enough to talk about the origins of Mumbo Sauce, responding to the media exposure of their company, overcoming trials in business and her 30 second sales pitch to a major distributor.
I had a brief history lesson when reading your website. I was not aware that Mumbo Sauce originated at Wings-N-Things in the 1960’s. With Mumbo Sauce being one of the most recognizable items originating in D.C., how important is it to teach the history of the product?
For us, it was very important. Until we started on this path we, like many people, believed that this condiment originated in Asian-owned carry outs. After receiving nationwide coverage in the Washington Post, we were told by several sources that it was actually created and used by African American owned chicken wing restaurants in the late 50s – 60s. We did quite a bit of research, and although the history varies, one fact has remained the same – African Americans brought this sauce to our area and we take pride in continuing this tradition.
You and your husband moved to the suburbs of D.C. and even that short distance made it difficult for you to find Mumbo Sauce. With your family not that far from D.C., I’d think that something that tastes so good, wouldn’t be so hard to find. What are your thoughts on Mumbo Sauce and the fact that it hasn’t reached the rest of the country after all of these years?
Well it’s quite weird actually. What we have found, is that Mumbo Sauce has reached as far north as New York and as far south as Atlanta. There are just spots in between those two locations in which Mumbo Sauce can’t be found. I guess we fell into one of those areas. There are places in our area that sell it, they’re just harder to find and the taste is questionable at best.
As far as it not reaching the rest of the country, we just felt like it was similar to many styles, traditions, music and cultures of DC – it doesn’t get much respect beyond the local area. Outside of the President and politics, people don’t really know what’s going on here. Capital City is hoping to change that.
I’m from Northeast D.C. and in most of the carry outs in my area; the Mumbo Sauce is orange and sweet. However, in some of the other parts of the city, you can find Mumbo Sauce that is more of a reddish color and more tangy. How did you come up with the formula for your version of the sauce?
Our recipe is based on what we prefer – the reddish/tangy version. But as a company we do realize that people will always have their preference. So we are currently formulating a bright orange version of Mumbo Sauce, which will appeal to those consumers.
To create our recipe, we traveled to some of our favorite carry out spots and tasted their sauces. Weekend after weekend, I would create different concoctions and fried wings until we had the formula just right. So in general, our Mumbo Sauce is a compilation of the best from around the city.
The Washington Post article on your product took things to the next level for you. Not all businesses are prepared for a sharp increase in exposure and requests. Talk about your strategy and steps taken after the major exposure began.
We initially thought the article was going to be placed in the local news/lifestyle section. So we figured we may get a few extra sales. It wasn’t until the night before our article was published that we realized it had been featured on the front page. The orders started coming in by the thousands and we had no idea what to do. Providing excellent customer service has always been our goal. So we notified customers of the delay due to the influx in sales and worked tirelessly, many times till 3-4 am to get the sauce made. We didn’t have a process for this. Not at such a large scale. Now after almost two years we have been able to fine-tune what works for us to get out our orders within 24-48 hours (most times).
What’s it like being in a family business? In particular, a business with your spouse?
It’s fun and exciting, other times it’s completely frustrating. There definitely has to be a balance. With family, there are no boundaries. We can be discussing the kid’s report cards one minute and packing up orders the next. But it’s the same within any marriage, communication and compromise is definitely the key. We try to be fair, understanding and take each other’s feelings into consideration when making big decisions.
It works for us because we have completely different roles. While I handle marketing, administrative, website management, design services, customer service and typically everything behind the scenes. My husband, Charles, handles the day-to-day like, managing vendors, wholesale/retail customers, local deliveries, inventory, shipping and communication to the warehouse.
This allows us breathing room to work on our own respective duties without stepping on each other’s toes.
Let’s say that I owned the biggest grocery store chain on the West Coast. We’re on an elevator together for 30 seconds. What would you say to me as a pitch to peak my interest in your product?
Hmmm good question. I’d say “Have you ever heard of Mumbo Sauce? It’s the sweet and sticky, yet tangy condiment Washingtonians have used for decades as a compliment to fried chicken. It’s a Washington DC original and we are the only company that produces it commercially.”
What’s been the biggest trial so far? And how did you all overcome it?
Aside from legal issues, it’s been quite an experience getting this business setup so that we are marketable to larger retailers. We started this business with the idea that we would make a little money for our family, since we were expecting the birth of our 4th child. Never in our wildest dreams would we think that a sauce we have known since we were young would have taken us this far.
We had no one to turn to when it came to creating our business. There is no one book, government agency or group we could call within the state of Maryland which knew the process it would take for us to get our product on store shelves. The state guidelines, product testing, finding a manufacturer, taxes, registering a business, paying vendors, upc codes, insurance, business finances – it was all new to us. But diligence, being active online and reaching out to anyone who we thought could give us any guidance has been great.
What’s the most rewarding part of selling this product?
Well, the first rewarding part is being able to provide for our family by creating wealth, which can be passed down onto future generations. Our goal has always been to become entrepreneurs and we hope that this gives our children another perspective on life. Where they learn that getting a job isn’t the only path available to them.
The second part was giving something back to a city that we love dearly, the Washington DC Metropolitan Area. Mumbo Sauce is more than just a condiment. It’s a hometown staple that local Washingtonians swear by. It’s part of who we are. The people of DC deserve to have their signature sauce on a national platform and treated with respect.