The barbecue industry is tough to break into in South Carolina.
As for restaurants, there are of course the big three – Rodney Scott’s BBQ, Home Team BBQ and Lewis Barbecue – as well as several others, such as Martin’s Bar-B-Que, Swig & Swine, Bessinger’s BBQ, Slaughterhouse BBQ & Brew and Melvin’s BBQ.
Barbecue sauce is an equally competitive market, with local restaurants offering bottled sauce competing with national brands like Sweet Baby Ray’s and Stubb’s. Making barbecue sauce has even become so popular that there is a new contest which will bring dozens of sauce lovers and 4,000 people to North Charleston to see which sauce reigns supreme.
So how did a Charleston resident who grew up in Rock Island, Illinois get a brand of barbecue sauce to over 100 grocery stores in multiple states in less than two years?
The story begins with Chipper Dog BBQ’s namesake, an English bulldog named Chipper.
Brandon Close, who launched his first bottle BBQ Chipper Dog sauce in 2020, says the company logo by Kate Barattine attracts people. But, he said, the reason he’s been so successful is his dedication to the products themselves.
“We’ve got a lot of looks on it just with the dog on the tag,” Close said. “It all depends on how I feel about the brand and what I support from the brand.”
Chipper Dog sells two sauces, Olde Red and Old Yella, the company’s original. The recipes are based on those he concocted in the Quad Cities, a four-city region on the Iowa-Illinois border where Close lived before moving to Charleston in 2015.
At the time, Close was smoking meat on the weekends after quitting his day job at John Deere. When he moved to Charleston, he joined the food and beverage industry, working at Bessinger’s BBQ, Sticky Fingers, and eventually, Kiawah lumber.
At Timbers, Close started serving a barbecue sandwich with his signature sauce. It quickly became a huge hit.
“It was kind of my proof of concept,” Close said, discussing his decision to start a business during the COVID-19 pandemic. “It was time to do my own thing.”
Starting her own business took a lot of hard work and miles on the road, Close said. He traveled from grocery store to grocery store, launching Chipper Dog along the way. The sauce eventually landed at a West Ashley Piggly Wiggly, but the grind didn’t stop there as all Piggly Wiggly stores are independent property.
Close’s big breakthrough came when he met a North Charleston store owner with more than a dozen Piggly Wiggly’s to his name. This meeting put him in the grocery store system.
The 30,000 miles he put on his car were worth it. Chipper Dog BBQ is now sold at Lowes Foods and IGA grocery stores, and he has exported his product beyond the state of South Carolina.
After starting with just Old Yella in October 2020, he added Olde Red and a rub intended for everything from pork to popcorn in fall 2021. These products worked well, but the mustard sauce is the strength driving force behind the new venture, in part because, according to Close, a big-box brand has yet to dominate this niche market.
“We walked into about 75 stores just on this product,” Close said. “We want to bring the mustard sauce to the national audience.”
Barbecue styles and the sauces that went with them were defined by the part of South Carolina you lived in, Post and Courier contributor Robert F. Moss recently told Southern Kitchen. The mustard sauce imprint used to be just a midstate staple, but that has changed.
“These areas merged,” Moss, a Greenville native, says Southern cuisine. “Now in Greenville, there’s mustard everywhere.”
Close has already brought mustard sauce to North Carolina, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire. Next, he hopes to bring his beloved brand of mustard sauce to the rest of the country.
“Our goal is to be nationwide.”