What started as a simple way to have some fun has now turned into a chance for Cletis Escobar, a Waxahachie resident, to get his product on H-E-B shelves across the state in 2015.
Escobar’s barbecue sauce, the Four Escobars, named after his wife, two children and himself, is one of 25 finalists in H-E-B’s “Quest for Texas Best” Primo Pick competition to find the best new product to possibly be featured on H-E-B's shelves.
He will have to make a presentation at the Houston Food Bank for his next round of judging on Aug. 19 and 20 for the statewide competition. If he wins, he would be one of four winners to receive a cash prize and consideration for space on H-E-B shelves in 2015, according to a press release.
Escobar and his family started making the sauce for local barbecue competitions four years ago, he said.
“I started getting different recipes together, doing this and that,” he said. “And pretty soon, people started asking, ‘ Hey, will you make a little extra for me.’ I’d say, 'Yeah, I’ll make a little extra for you.’”
Pretty soon after, he said, he couldn’t keep up with the number of people wanting Four Escobars. He made it by the gallon, and people bought it by the gallon. Then his neighbor suggested putting the sauce in a bottle. One thing led to another, and in March of this year, he had his first batch — a total of 400 gallons — manufactured at a plant, he said.
Four Escobars is also sold in Waxahachie’s Niños Mexican Restaurant, and a few other Waxahachie and Ennis stores, he said.
He said he tried to send sample bottles to the Ennis H-E-B and get on the shelves, and officials there pushed him to join the competition. An H-E-B press release states Escobar competed against at least 600 entries statewide to rise with 25 other as finalists.
His sauce, “perfectly compliments beef, pork and chicken on the grill with its blend of a little sweet and a little heat,” the release stated.
“It’s kind of surreal,” he said. “I didn’t even think I would make it to the second round. This didn’t even cross my mind. I’m still nervous, because I have to go down there and do a presentation.”
During the deciding round next week, expert judges will interview all 25 makers of the different finalist products to weigh their potential as retail suppliers, the release stated. The judges will examine each item’s capability for production, and then make the choice. Cash prizes range from $25,000 to $10,000, according to the release.
“Choosing from nearly 600 entries was no easy task,” said Reade Ahrens, H-E-B Group Vice President of Grocery Procurement and Merchandising, stated in a press release. “We are down to the final 25 and are pleased to welcome them to the final judging for the opportunity to win substantial prize money.”
The moment he realized his barbecue sauce might be more than local competition worthy was the moment Escobar looked up and said he was making so much sauce and didn’t even have any for his own family.
“I’m sitting there making three gallons at a time, stirring with a big spoon,” he said. “I’m thinking this is crazy.”
Now he even ships to other states, like New York, New Jersey, Washington and North Carolina. Online orders and word of mouth have helped him come a long way, he said.
Four Escobars comes in Original and will soon come in Honey and Raspberry flavors.
“One of the things we talked about was being able to keep it in Waxahachie, no matter how big it gets or how small it gets, we want to be able to give back to the community,” he said. “I grew up in Waxahachie, so just to give back to here, is where I want to keep it. We want to make it big, but if we don’t make it big, that’s fine.”
He said even if he doesn’t win, he’s just glad for the local support he’s had and he hopes to one day pass the recipe onto his children. For now, it’s kept under lock and key, he said.
“If I just get 25th, it means a lot to be able to say out of all these entries, I’m 25th in Texas,” he said. “If I don’t win it, that’s fine. I’m going to try to, but being in the top 25 is just a great accomplishment. I didn’t go to culinary school, this was just me throwing stuff together over time and putting it out.”