When Lou Chandler hit the sauce, it was shopping channel QVC that got the big buzz off it.
Chandler toted eight bottles of Bumblin Bear Mountain Man Barbecue Sauce to Boise last week and a stack of clear plastic medicine dispensers to double as taste-testers.
On a hunt for 20 hand-crafted things that just scream Idaho, QVC auditioned more than 150 items in two days last week. Everything from shower heads to silver wolves and all things spudlike.
The Coeur d’Alene resident of eight years admitted he was a bit overwhelmed. The competition had frilly costumes, slick brochures and smooth-talking salesfolks.
Chandler just had the taste.
The cherished family recipe got him started. “I had to literally pry it from my sister,” he said, sitting in his spacious home, being remodeled, high up in Cougar Gulch. “But barbecue sauce is Texas, it’s Kansas City. I thought to myself, how could I make it truly Idaho?”
This guy’s got a true entrepreneurial gift for trying new things. Almost on a whim, Chandler produced the vocal talent that brought a group of shriveled grapes to life on television. Hung behind him are two platinum records for the California Raisins, the successful marketing campaign during the 1980s.
From California raisins to Idaho huckleberries. It’s a sweet transition for Chandler - one that made all the difference in the barbecue sauce world.
“They can’t grow them commercially, you know,” he said, his eyes twinkling at the heaping bowl of plump ones at arm’s reach. “Every year families go up on the mountainside and harvest them. What else could be more Idaho?”
In Boise, a QVC buyer took one nip of the huckleberry-sweetened concoction and hailed her colleagues over. They snapped up seven of his bottles for taste-testing later that night at dinner.
Wednesday they called Chandler to tell him the good news: He’d won. The bad news: He needed 3,500 2-packs of sauce right quick.
“I sort of felt like I’d won the lottery,” he said. In retail terms, he may have. In July, Chandler will get to hock his sauces: original, the attention-grabbing huckleberry and, fresh off his stove as of Friday, a raspberry version.
QVC boasts 50 million devoted shoppers for its programming, though Chandler says he wasn’t one of them until now. “I think the taste will really come through for them, right through the TV screen, I really do.”
Now, about that taste … It’s a smooth, pleasant, huckleberry hint at first, a fruity prelude to a full-fledged eruption of spicy burn, straight out of West Texas, that seems to lasso your tongue and dig spurs in your palate before politely tipping its hat and riding off to Throatsville.
Regardless of how well Mountain Man sauce does on QVC, Chandler has plans to bring it to stores here.
A Portland manufacturer will soon start making his sauces in big batches, he said. Local shops and grocery stores in Coeur d’Alene are hungry for the sauces, too.
Chandler, 46, has a track record of throwing his very being into his projects. His showbiz days put him in a lifestyle he couldn’t stomach, so he settled here. Restless, he bought the car wash on Third Street in Coeur d’Alene. It kept him busy - too busy, in fact, so he sold that.
Now, he’s up to his ribs in the sauce business, but he said he’s learned his lesson.
“This time, I’m not going to do everything myself,” he said. “I’m bringing a whole lot of people along with me for this one.”