How did Sarge’s Shrimp and Grits Sauce come to be?
We’re named in honor of my dad, who was a lifer in the military. We started as a food truck—Sarge’s Chef on Wheels—and our menu was based on all the different places that we’d lived, being a military family. We called our cooking style “down-home cooking, Asian and Caribbean in flair.” We’d lived in Japan, we’d lived in England. My mother’s originally from Charleston. We moved all over the country.
How did you get your start in the professional culinary world?
I grew up cooking with my mother, she loved to cook for people. If you came to our house there was no question: she would not [just] offer you food, she would make it and serve it, put it in front of you. She truly meant for you to enjoy it and she wouldn’t go, “Might you have some?” She made sure that you knew that she meant it was no bother. Living at different bases my mother would run the Noncommissioned Officer’s (NCO) Club. She would run the food service in these different clubs, and so I was always exposed to that. She taught me that if you work in a restaurant, you can always eat, no matter how broke you are. So I’ve always worked in a restaurant on the side, no matter what my regular job was.
Did the lessons you learned working odd jobs help you with the food truck?
Oh, absolutely. The food business is a people business. I jokingly say I used to sell everything from chicken to lamb. I started in a chicken restaurant when I was real young. Many people have a dream of starting a restaurant based on having a good food product, which you have to have, but we had a good food product and we had a good understanding of how to operate. We were lucky we opened our food truck in 2012, operated for seven and a half years. The menu was based on the different places we’d lived. We had shrimp and grits as our signature dish; hot Italian sausage; a New York dish; cheesesteaks; Northeast; Caribbean jerk chicken; black bean veggie burgers; jerk turkey. And shrimp and grits was our number one dish. People were always asking us how to make it; they couldn’t seem to make the sauce as well. My wife came up with the idea that we should package our sauce so people could enjoy it at home. We did that, and in 2019 we received our first shipment of our sauce in a jar. We started marketing that from the food truck.
What excites you about the Triangle food scene right now?
It’s just that it’s so vibrant—you do have everything from A to Z, it’s not just a niche of Southern, a niche of this, a niche of that. You have everything from vegetarian to Venezuelan. Certainly tacos, Mexican … but it’s just so wide-ranging. And so well-supported, which is also important.
What is next for Sarge’s?
[In addition to our] Shrimp and Grits Sauce, we have our own grits, our own seafood seasoning. We’re working on a couple more products. We like to provide gourmet, restaurant-quality food you can make at home, so we make ways of making it easier for you. We’ll release a lump crab cake mix. Home cooks always want to go to restaurants because they [cook] so well. [It’s] not that the home cook can’t do it, but the restaurant does it all day, every day. Instead of making a recipe once, we may have made it 5,000 times. So we’re better at it, we like to take the edge of that kind of experience and make it easy for the home cook to duplicate.
Do you have any advice for parents that want their children to have a passion for cooking?
My mother’s favorite saying was “If one eats, one oughta know how to cook.” It’s as simple as that. We’ve always been family-oriented. I’ve gone through some trials and tribulations, my wife has always hung in there with me. We’re coming up on our 44th year of marriage. We’ve been through a lot, but we’ve always stayed together and we keep at it one step at a time.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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