Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Hick Lickin' Good BBQ sauce by Michelle Libby

Hick Lickin’ Good BBQ sauce was all natural before it was popular. Ten years ago, Pete Kostopolous was on the front lines of Portland night life at the Free Street Tavern, which is where the recipe for his Apple Plum BBQ sauce was sampled and perfected.

“My friends remember when I walked in with a little piece of paper with the recipe scribbled on it,” said Kostopolous. They made 120 cases of sauce and put it in the back of his truck. “I told my wife I wouldn’t be back until I’d sold it all. I got to Cape Cod and had sold them all,” he said.

Kostopolous, his wife Jeni, his father and mother, who own the business, all have come a long way since that first trip, but then again, keeping it grounded in the roots of what Hick Lickin’ stands for is important to Kostopolous.

He believes that the sauces should be all natural. He likes each to have a fruit ingredient and all of the sauces are gluten free, except for the teriyaki. All of the sauces have their origins in the kitchen of Kostopolous’ 1700s farm house on Chute Road in Windham. The flavors to date are: Maine Maple Bourbon Grilling Sauce, Maine Apple Plum BBQ, Mango Chipotle BBQ, Peach Habanero with ghost peppers and Maine Apricot Ginger Teriyaki. 

The sauces are made by Lucas Foods in Biddeford. They produce massive amounts of sauce and ship the products nationwide. Their largest account is Hannaford, said Kostopolous. “We’re in the Nature’s Place in Hannaford because we’re all natural and gluten free,” he said.

Five years ago, they began selling sauce to The Meat House, a national company. “That brought us to levels…it’s incredible,” he said. This month alone, they have shipped 26,000 pounds of the maple bourbon marinade. This year, half a million pounds of beef have been marinated in Hick Lickin’ Good sauce, Kostopolous said. “That’s just one sauce out of five.”

The sauce is popular in Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, New England states, New York and North Carolina. “We’re heading down the east coast hard,” he said.

Three years ago, Kostopolous had to give up his control in the company to his family due to a brain injury.
“It’s been really hard with the concussion stuff,” he said.

He’s a self-proclaimed athletic guy, having played lacrosse, football and then as an adult he played nose-tackle in a touch football league and he took up racing motorcross. “Those were the biggest hits I took,” he said. Concussions were not as talked about then as they are now and after being hit so many times, the injuries took their toll.

“I was doing endure racing at 52. Those oak trees don’t give very much when you hit them,” he said. Once he crashed so hard that he split his helmet in half. The final straw was when he slipped three steps at his house and knocked himself out.

“Most people don’t really understand brain injuries. It’s almost like a Civil War in your head. It’s a constant battle,” Kostopolous said.

He suffers from migraines regularly. Once a week he goes to Maine Medical Center for “brain work” to try to get him “more functional.” He also sees a bio feedback doctor. Two years ago he joined a support group for people with brain injuries and it helps him to know there are others like him out there. “You realize that we are in a whole different world.”

Kostopolous has six children ranging in age from 28 to 9 years old. He also has four grandchildren. He was one of the people to start football in Windham. “Now, I would never let (my children) play football,” he said.
On each bottle of sauce the label states that a part of the proceeds go to support brain injury survivors. The labels feature a local actor and musician, Kris Eckhardt, who is a friend of Kostopolous.

The business is taking off by leaps and bounds. The sauce is on the tasting palates of people at Previte’s Marketplace. When Hick Lickin’ Good gets the okay from them, they can be sold at Market Basket and Roche Brothers, according to Kostopolous.  

“It doesn’t pay all the bills. We’re not getting rich, but we’re getting by,” he said. The Pantry, Pat’s Meat Market, Whole Foods, Shaw’s and Hannaford are some of the local places that carry Hick Lickin’ Good sauce. It can also be ordered through www.kettlecovefoods.com. What’s the next flavor? It could be papaya chili-pepper.

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