What does it take to become one of Windsor’s most beloved condiments? The owner of JP Smitty Sauce knows that word of mouth is the secret sauce.
“Our saying is, ‘you try it, you buy it,’” laughs Jason Gill. “We have so many people sample it at events and tell their friends, ‘You gotta try this!’”
What began as a fun pastime in the kitchen for his father-in-law, John-Paul Smith, has turned into a rapidly growing full time gig for Gill, who now distributes the tangy, tomato-based sauce in its ‘original’ and ‘hot’ forms to over 40 retail locations across Essex County and beyond.
“It’s a family recipe that goes back a long ways,” explains Gill. “In 1990 he started making it himself and really perfected it over 20 years. He called it ‘Smitty Sauce’ and would hand it out to friends and family.”
Gill met Smith over two decades ago while working in the automotive business and recalls him bringing bottles of sauce in when he came in to purchase vehicles.
“I used to always joke with him, ‘Smitty, you gotta make more sauce!’ I loved it and would put it on everything.”
Gill eventually married Smith’s daughter Laura and says over the years, he would often tell his father-in-law there was an opportunity to share the sauce with a wider audience.
“I would say to him, ‘We can do something with this. This is that good that I do believe there’s a market for it.”
Now, in just over a year, Gill has made and distributed over 5500 bottles of sauce, selling them at storefronts across the region, as well as various pop-up markets and festivals.
“Having my father-in-law come to events and see what we’ve created is just unreal,” he says, emotion building in his voice. “I bring him to a market and he’s out there selling with a huge smile on his face. It just brings me so much joy. Every time he comes over he asks, ‘How many have we sold?’”
So how has Smitty Sauce become so popular so quickly? Probably because it goes well on pretty much anything.
“We don’t call it a barbecue sauce, we call it an ‘everything’ sauce,” he says. “I learned that pretty quickly when I put bottles of it out at The Sandwich Nook in Tecumseh. I watched people try a little dab, try a little more, then put it on everything: eggs, potatoes, corned beef hash, sandwiches.”
Of course, he adds, it pairs well with chicken, ribs, pork, and our beloved Windsor-style pizza.
“We have a great partnership with Capital City Pizza Co. where they give out samples with their takeout orders and sell the full bottles,” he shares. “Remark Farms also makes a barbecue chicken pizza with Smitty Sauce instead of tomato sauce on it and it’s great.”
Gill also credits the success of the company to connecting with local resources and likeminded business people. He received a grant from the Foodpreneur Advantage program (through the Small Business and Entrepreneur Centre) and was able to purchase a branded tent, new pots, and other collateral to help grow his business.
“That program was really a blessing,” he says. “I received a lot of great information and met some amazing people.”
Gill admits the local sauce market is a busy game, but says he tries to do things with his brand that set him apart from the competition.
“I try to be different,” he says. “I give little signs with our logo on it to put out in front of the bottles when they’re on display. I hand out swag to get our name out there. I also leave extra bottles for the staff to keep in their lunchrooms so that they know what the product tastes like and can share that with customers.”
Gill is eager to continue growing Smitty Sauce. Not only is he constantly adding new retail partners, he’s also currently working on a line of rubs to add to the roster. Looking ahead to the future, he hopes to keep the family tradition alive for a fourth generation and one day pass the company down to his daughters, Grace and Ella.
“Maybe once we hit 50 retail locations, I’ll sit back and assess where we go but 50 won’t be the limit,” he laughs. “We’re already moving up the 401 with our sauce now available in Chatham-Kent. I’d love to have this as something for my kids one day.”