Made in Georgia: Grandmother’s preserves inspired sauce company

Savannah Sauce Co. began producing bacon salsa, owner Mike Roberson said, because “everyone loves bacon.” Courtesy of Moye Colquitt

Credit: Moye Colquitt

caption arrowCaption
Savannah Sauce Co. began producing bacon salsa, owner Mike Roberson said, because “everyone loves bacon.” Courtesy of Moye Colquitt

Credit: Moye Colquitt

Credit: Moye Colquitt

Inspiration for a food business can come from many places. In the case of Mike Roberson of Savannah Sauce Co., his inspiration began many years ago in the Savannah kitchen of his maternal grandmother, Henrietta Smith, where he watched her preserving the fruits of her backyard garden.

“Back then, everybody’s grandmother made preserves,” Roberson said, “and she always was sure to make my favorite for me, frog jam made with figs, raspberries and miniature oranges she grew in the garden.”

Smith also made elderberry elixir that she would whip out if anybody in the family began coughing. “It was one of the mainstay remedies of the house. We called it ‘bark candy,’” Roberson said, laughing.

Today, his company offers frog jam, elderberry elixir and elderberry jam (all labeled as “Miss Henrietta’s”), along with 14 other products that generally reflect the flavors he enjoyed growing up in Savannah.

ExploreMade in Georgia food products
caption arrowCaption
Frog jam, a mixture of figs, raspberries, orange and ginger, is one of the classic offerings from Savannah Sauce Co. Courtesy of Moye Colquitt

Credit: Moye Colquitt

Frog jam, a mixture of figs, raspberries, orange and ginger, is one of the classic offerings from Savannah Sauce Co. Courtesy of Moye Colquitt

Credit: Moye Colquitt

caption arrowCaption
Frog jam, a mixture of figs, raspberries, orange and ginger, is one of the classic offerings from Savannah Sauce Co. Courtesy of Moye Colquitt

Credit: Moye Colquitt

Credit: Moye Colquitt

Roberson didn’t start out to build a food-based business, but food was always in the background.

He traveled to Australia as a civil site project manager to work on wastewater treatment plants, where he discovered freshwater crawfish that grow to the size of a lobster. After negotiating with the Georgia Department of Agriculture, he was able to import 25 crawfish to Georgia, and began raising them and learning about aquaculture. He’s had successes and failures in his experiments with temperature and environment, but he continues to work on the process, and hopes one day to be marketing the crawfish as Georgia “freshwater lobster.”

When he tried a blueberry vinaigrette at a restaurant, he came home and started tinkering in the kitchen to develop his own recipe. “It was not a success,” he said. “My version tasted like blueberry cough syrup. So, you get some failures, but you hold on to the ones that work out.”

Something that did work out was his line of “zombie” hot sauces in three strengths. “A friend who is an avid fan of ‘The Walking Dead’ told me I had to do something that would appeal to all those zombie fans,” Roberson said. “I came up with hot sauce in three levels, ranging from the mildest, Zombie Psychedelic, to the hottest, Zombie Armageddon.”

ExploreMore must-buy food products
caption arrowCaption
It took an essay written by Mike Roberson of Savannah Sauce Co. to get his products on the shelves of Whole Foods Market in Savannah. Courtesy of Carlos Lennon

Credit: Carlos Lennon

It took an essay written by Mike Roberson of Savannah Sauce Co. to get his products on the shelves of Whole Foods Market in Savannah. Courtesy of Carlos Lennon

Credit: Carlos Lennon

caption arrowCaption
It took an essay written by Mike Roberson of Savannah Sauce Co. to get his products on the shelves of Whole Foods Market in Savannah. Courtesy of Carlos Lennon

Credit: Carlos Lennon

Credit: Carlos Lennon

The hot sauce project started when he was given 20 pounds of habanero peppers from the experimental gardens at the Armstrong campus of Georgia Southern University. “I’m working with them on our aquaculture project,” he said, “and they use the waste water from the tanks where they grow tilapia to grow peppers and other vegetables in a soilless environment.”

That hot sauce led to salsa, which led to ketchup ... Roberson always is working on the next great idea.

He was able to get his products into the Savannah Whole Foods Market by writing an essay on why his sauce should be in that store. His pitch accepted, he went to the store every single day to give out samples and build up interest. “I was there every day, as if I was an employee,” he said. “I remember the very first person who made a purchase, and the confidence she gave me.”

caption arrowCaption
Savannah Sauce Co. produces a wide range of products, including barbecue sauce and ketchup. Courtesy of Moye Colquitt

Credit: Moye Colquitt

Savannah Sauce Co. produces a wide range of products, including barbecue sauce and ketchup. Courtesy of Moye Colquitt

Credit: Moye Colquitt

caption arrowCaption
Savannah Sauce Co. produces a wide range of products, including barbecue sauce and ketchup. Courtesy of Moye Colquitt

Credit: Moye Colquitt

Credit: Moye Colquitt

“Give back and lift someone up” is Roberson’s motto, and that led him to create Tiger’s Awesome Sauce, a project done in conjunction with Savannah State University. “I remember looking for my first job,” he said. “I bought a new suit, did the interview, and the gentleman was nice, told me he liked my energy, but he wouldn’t hire me, because I didn’t have any experience. I knew one day I wanted to be in the position to give college students business experience, so they wouldn’t have to overcome that hurdle.”

He ended up creating TigerCo Marketing, with the goal that students will go through a four-year program and be able to leave with four years of business experience. The revenue from sales goes back to the university’s College of Business Administration, to fund microloans for those students, and to help them start their own businesses after they graduate.

caption arrowCaption
Savannah Sauce Co. began producing hot sauce as a result of experiments with 20 pounds of habanero peppers given to founder Mike Roberson from the experimental gardens at the Armstrong campus of Georgia Southern University. Courtesy of Moye Colquitt

Credit: Moye Colquitt

Savannah Sauce Co. began producing hot sauce as a result of experiments with 20 pounds of habanero peppers given to founder Mike Roberson from the experimental gardens at the Armstrong campus of Georgia Southern University. Courtesy of Moye Colquitt

Credit: Moye Colquitt

caption arrowCaption
Savannah Sauce Co. began producing hot sauce as a result of experiments with 20 pounds of habanero peppers given to founder Mike Roberson from the experimental gardens at the Armstrong campus of Georgia Southern University. Courtesy of Moye Colquitt

Credit: Moye Colquitt

Credit: Moye Colquitt

Read more stories like this by liking Atlanta Restaurant Scene on Facebook, following @ATLDiningNews on Twitter and @ajcdining on Instagram.

About the Author

Editors' Picks