By Melissa Quinn
Some like it mild, some like it hot, but Eli Rakis and Mary Ritley-White like it homemade. And as the owners and chefs of Sauce Queen Foods, that’s just how they make it.
It’s been only nine months since the friends embarked on their culinary endeavor — selling their line of homemade sauces to friends, neighbors and now Whole Foods of Old Town — but Rakis and Ritley-White have become sauce sensations.
Their success story began after Ritley-White received a barrage of rave reviews from friends after bringing her homemade salsa to pool parties, birthday bashes and school functions. Her husband, T.J., joked she could make a profit from the dip, and that’s when the idea for Sauce Queen Foods was born, Ritley-White said.
“It started in our wee little Old Town kitchens,” she said.
Ritley-White approached Rakis with the idea to start selling her salsa, and with Rakis’ buffalo yogurt dip, their idea began to take shape.
Now, the “mompreneurs” balance motherhood — Rakis has two children and Ritley-White has three — with being owners of a growing business.
They started with a small clientele in Old Town, cooking the dips out of their home kitchens. But, as the business began to take off, the duo expanded to a licensed kitchen, making salsa, buffalo yogurt dip and a creamy horseradish sauce.
“What started as a way for us to provide healthy, good food for our family and friends has grown into an opportunity to build our business … and help other people simplify their lives with our sauces that help make any meal special,” Rakis said.
As Sauce Queen’s salsas found their way onto more and more Alexandria tables, fans began asking if they could get it in the grocery store. So the mompreneurs reached out to their contacts in the business world and scheduled a meeting.
It took only five days for Old Town Whole Foods to give the pair the green light, and the condiments hit shelves Saturday.
And with the onset of the holiday season, the pair find themselves in a whirlwind of Christmas recitals, holiday orders and, of course, cooking.
“There hasn’t been a lot of time to celebrate; we’re kind of waiting to pop the cork on the champagne,” Ritley-White said.
Rakis and Ritley-White routinely end up working until well after midnight and lean on their husbands — the Sauce Kings — for support and help.
“We’ve been doing this for like 15 minutes, but I think we have our moments and sometimes it is super hard,” Ritley-White said. “But you have to support each other, and we have such a supportive community.”
The duo is banking on the support of their families and the local community to expand their sauce line. They also hope to expand to other Whole Foods throughout the region and maybe even open a shop.
“People have been so amazing, and it’s like they’re itching to support us,” Ritley-White said. “Everybody is so supportive of a small startup, and we try to work it out and be a good team.”
Even as the company grows and more sauces are pushed onto the shelves, Rakis and Ritley-White continue to sample each batch to ensure it’s just as delicious as the last.
And as the duo dip their fingers into the business world, they can’t help but think, “Dang, that’s good.”