WATERTOWN – The family-owned barbecue sauce recipe was kept by Edward F. Otis, a native of the town, who obtained it from his mother, Katherine O’Brien Otis, a longtime resident of Watertown.
A woman of Irish descent, Mrs. Otis, who would raise Edward and three other children in their home at 1360 Washington St., was a member of St. Patrick’s Church and enjoyed playing the piano at square dances in the county. But she apparently also knew the keys to selecting the right ingredients that would make a barbecue sauce sparkle.
“The sauce” became legendary in the family, even after Mrs Otis died at the age of 79 in 1965. By this time, her son Edward, the youngest of the four children, had moved to Liverpool, where he was raising his family after his service in WWII with the 44th Infantry Division, where he fought in France and Germany.
Edward Otis often made batches of sauce. But he kept the lid on his recipe.
“I would take a Scout camping trip or a camping trip with my friends, and I would say ‘Daddy, I want to make the gravy,'” son Michael Otis said. “And he said to me, ‘You’re not old enough to make the sauce. I make the sauce. When you turn 21, you can have the recipe. It was one of those things that he did. said like a family joke.
He joined the Air Force at the age of 18, and just in time, inside his birthday card from his father at the age of 21 was a card with the basic recipe of barbecue sauce.
“I’ve been doing it ever since,” Mr. Otis said.
That was over 35 years ago. In the meantime, Mr. Otis served 22 years in the military, primarily with the 174th Fighter Wing in Syracuse. He worked in media relations, and among his duties was the media escort during Operation Desert Storm, where he received the Air Force Medal of Honor and other service awards. . He is also a former newspaper photographer and morning meteorologist at the ABC Syracuse branch.
Over the past few years, Mr. Otis has been making more and more batches of the recipe as his fans discover the appeal of what is now called Battle Tested Craft BBQ Sauce.
“Once I got the recipe, I started playing with it,” Mr. Otis said. “It was probably a simple barbecue sauce. I started adding spices and other ingredients to it over the years once I got the original recipe.
His friends encouraged him to bring his barbecue sauce to the market.
“I didn’t know anything about the food industry, so I did it for friends, put it in a mason jar, or took it to a barbecue or whatever,” Mr. Otis said.
In 2017, he shared the sauce with his friend and entrepreneur Christopher Guerrera. Mr. Guerrera and his business partner Judy Abrahams appeared on ABC’s “Shark Tank” in its final episode this year. Their product, Super Potty Trainer, is designed to make toilet training less difficult.
Mr. Otis did voiceover work for Mr. Guerrera.
“He sent me a check and I sent him a thank you note with something in sauce, and he shared it with a guy who writes for Forbes magazine who was at his house that day,” said said Mr. Otis.
Mr Guerrera’s guest, Mr Otis said, was impressed with the sauce and told him it should be brought to market. Mr. Guerrera agreed and passed the suggestion on to Mr. Otis.
“I said to my wife, ‘I’m going to do this,’” Mr. Otis said.
But his wife, Deardria Otis, wondered how he would do this.
“I said, ‘I have no idea,’ Mr. Otis said. “But we’re probably going to empty bank accounts or use credit cards and lines of credit because I have to find out. “
Mr. Otis said that as a military veteran he has taken advantage of state and federal organizations that work with veteran contractors.
“I started there,” he says. “And they asked me what I wanted to do.”
When Mr. Otis shared his plans to start a barbecue sauce business and become a national brand in five years, he encountered a lack of enthusiasm.
“They told me to save my money because I would never be able to do it,” Mr. Otis said. “It’s too competitive.
Others told him the same.
“Almost everyone I spoke to said to me, ‘Don’t do it because you can’t do it.’ So of course I did.
Battle Tested Craft BBQ Sauce launched in 2019. “And we’re in over 800 grocery stores right now,” Mr. Otis said.
These stores include Tops Friendly Markets, Food Lion and Wegmans.
The Tops Friendly Market location in Watertown at Watertown Shopping Plaza on Washington Street is near where the sauce originated from Mr. Otis’ grandmother’s house.
“We are more than delighted that Tops Markets has chosen Battle Tested in Watertown,” said Mr. Otis. “Seeing him come home to Watertown where the original recipe came out of my grandmother’s kitchen and where my dad grew up, who passed it on to me is heartwarming. “
The makers of Battle Tested Craft barbecue sauce have been invited to sponsor this year’s Mountainfest in Fort Drum, which was held in August.
“As a veteran-owned company with ties to Watertown and central New York, this was not obvious to us,” said Mr. Otis. “They had a VIP tent and we gave the event caterer the sauce to make pulled pork for everyone. I brought a bunch of bottles to give as a gift and told everyone if they liked it they could find them at Tops Friendly Market in Watertown. The response has been really, really good.
“clear path” donations
Mr. Otis is passionate about veterans issues, particularly PTSD awareness and veteran suicide. He said that in central and upstate New York, Battle Tested Craft Barbecue Sauce donates 5% of its profits on every bottle sold to Clear path for veterans in Chittenango, Madison County. The association works closely with veterans and the military at Fort Drum.
Mr Otis and his wife moved to Raleigh, North Carolina about seven years ago, where the sauce is featured in several chains.
When interviewed for this story, Mr. Otis was speaking from his vehicle en route to Chesapeake, Virginia.
“We have a food broker who takes care of the military commissioners,” he said. “We leave the product to them and they are in the process of bringing it into the military bases. Fort Drum is going to be the first place we’re going to look at, just because they know the product. We hope to be on the shelves there in a month or two. “
With the sauce’s growing success, Mr. Otis was asked what his father, who died in 2000 at the age of 74, would think of what he accomplished with the family recipe.
“I think he would be amazed if I was actually able to do something with my life,” Mr. Otis said with a laugh. “No, I think he would be really proud.
His mother is 94 years old.
“She’s pretty happy with it,” Mr. Otis said. “She told me my father would be proud. Nice to hear. “