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It didn’t start out to be a business, just an appetizing pastime for Freddie Lee James Jr., a way for him to relax on weekends after working all week as a laborer for Interface Construction Co.

But after a while, with an increasing number of friends and neighbors pitching money into James’ cooking pot, ”Freddie Lee’s Ghetto Sauce” was born.

“All my friends wanted some, so they’d ante up with some money,” James said. “When I was done making a big batch, they come over with their pickle jars and whatnot and get their fair share.”

James, 61, is a proud graduate of Beaumont High. He lives in the Greater Ville neighborhood in the same house where James came up with the barbecue sauce’s unique brand name.

“My wife (Deborah) and I were out on the porch while a batch of sauce was cooking, and a police chase went by,” he said.

“I told her, ‘God willing, one of these days we’re going to move out of this ghetto,’ ” James said. “So that’s where the name came from.”

James’ business grew big enough to require him to shift his sauce-cooking operations to the St. Patrick Center’s business incubator in downtown St. Louis. The official starting date for the company is 2010, when James began hawking his wares at area farmers markets.

James said some of his sauce’s biggest fans were managers of Schnucks stores. Those managers encouraged James to talk to the corporate bigwigs, and they even set up a sit-down for James with company supervisors.

“I went to this meeting, and they all went on about how much they loved my sauce,” James said. “But they all said there’s no way they could sell it as ‘Ghetto Sauce.’ They said, ‘Freddie, I guarantee you we’ll get complaints.’

“But they promised me that if I changed the name, they’d put it in their stores,” James said.

So while the name is “Ghetto Sauce” at the 43 smaller locations where he sells his “spicy” and “mild” varieties of sauce, it bears another moniker at Schnucks.

There, you will see the same type of jar, with the same colors and typeface for the label, in either spicy or mild. But it will say “Freddie Lee’s American Gourmet Sauce.”