Subscribe for $3 for three months

Joe Holleman is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

STL sauce sultan Freddie Lee James looked out on the gravel lot behind his shop in the industrial guts of downtown St. Louis.

"Welcome to the world headquarters of 'Freddie Lee's Ghetto Sauce,'" James said with a laugh as he stood at the back service door of his company's first official office.

"We're just getting too busy to not have a place of our own," James said.

The 2,700 square-foot facility is at Second and Biddle streets, next door to the Lumiere Casino.

The new digs will allow James to increase production by at least 20 percent. It also will allow him and his wife/business partner, Deborah James, to move the company's office out of their house. 

James said he will hire six employees, since he and his wife can no longer handle the cooking by themselves.

This saucy tale began years ago on a stove in the couple's kitchen in the Greater Ville neighborhood of north St. Louis. Because so many friends and relatives gave them jars to fill with their sauce, James decided to turn his home hobby into a business.

So in 2010 — while working full-time at a construction laborer's job he retired from in 2015 — the couple rented access to a commercial kitchen at St. Patrick's Center.

By 2013, sales were climbing fast enough to force them to move the cooking and bottling operation to a larger commissary in Belleville.

The sauce is now being sold in more than 600 locations. Along with "Ghetto Sauce" being carried at numerous artisan-style stores, it also is carried — under the more politically correct name "American Gourmet Sauce — by the Dierbergs and Schnuck's chains.

"We're also in all the Hy-Vee stores, but it's still called 'Ghetto Sauce' there," James said. "They said they weren't worried about political correctness; they want it under that name."

At some point, James said he might open his facility to other budding entrepreneurs.

"People ask me about this business," he said. "And I always tell them yes, they can do it — if they're willing to work."

Joe's St. Louis e-newsletter

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.