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From the Basement to a Business: The Making of Pigchaser BBQ Sauce

How one Grayslake entrepreneur turned his hobby into his livelihood, with the help of a local small business resource.

“Almost every business started in someone’s basement.”

That’s the way Jan Bauer, director of the Illinois Small Business Development Center at the College of Lake County, sees it.

“Businesses start because you either stumble into it or it’s been mindful planning. Either way, you still usually need help.”

The Illinois SBDC is a grant-funded program that provides information, guidance training and other resources to early stage and existing small businesses. Bauer and her team of counselors work with entrepreneurs to get them on the right path for finance, marketing, ways to access capital, technology, international relations and much more. The center currently helps almost 500 businesses across Lake County.

“They come to us if they are hurting in an area, or several areas. We’ve been able to turn some businesses around,” Bauer said. “What happens with small businesses is that the owners are always very passionate about what they are doing, but it doesn’t mean they know how to manage all the aspects of running a business.”

Basement BBQ

Just ask Ron Slawek of Grayslake, creator of Pigchaser BBQ Sauce. Slawek turned his dream into a reality when he was laid off from his job in the electronics industry in September of 2010.

“I knew it was time,” he said.

Slawek always loved barbecue sauce. He had been working in what he calls the ‘sauce lab’ of his basement for years and when job troubles struck, he focused on tweaking and perfecting the Original Pigchaser BBQ Sauce.

"My wife finally said I either needed to do something with the sauce or shut up about it."

Slawek decided to move forward in creating his company, and his dream job. He knew the beginnings of how to run a business, but there still were several questions the entrepreneur had. That's when he turned to the Illinois SBDC.  

“I knew there was a lot I didn’t know. I had the idea and they helped me move forward,” Slawek said.

From marketing to planning for the future, “They are always there. They answer any questions I have and point me in the right direction,” he said.

Slawek quickly perfected four more sauce flavors: Pineapple-Mango, Garlic, Habanero and Bacon, the very first BBQ sauce ever approved by the United States Department of Agriculture.

“The USDA said they ‘don’t do sauces’ because they had never had to approve one before.”

Slawek said because of the trouble and hassle with the USDA he considered dropping the key ingredient down to less than three percent, but “it just took out too much of the flavor.”

Instead he waited it out and received the stamp of approval.

Today Slawek sells his five original flavors at more than 120 locations across the country. He also has several limited edition sauces. His Habanero BBQ Sauce won first place at the 2012 and 2013 Scovie Awards, the official contest of the Fiery Foods & Barbecue Industry.

Slawek recently took first place in the fruit division for his Pigchaser Pineapple Mango BBQ at the Gettin' Sauced competition in Austin, Texas.

Now he’s looking to the future and preparing to go overseas by taking the exporting classes the Small Business Development Center has to offer. “I’ve had some international interest and I want to be ready when that time comes.” 

"Our whole mission is the success of our small businesses," Bauer added. "It really has to do with planning and looking past the day-to-day to become successful."

If you’re a small business looking for guidance, contact the Illinois Small Business Development Center at 847-543-2033. You can find Pigchaser locally at the Piggly Wiggly or check out their website

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Good stuff, get it at the Pig!
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