Saturday, May 30, 2009

Spivey Brothers Barbecue


Thinking of Kansas City and New Orleans and other cities known for spicy food as well as jazz, I concocted some barbecue baked beans a few nights ago for friends, creating a sauce on the fly from whatever was handy. They were a success (just as often not, when improvised). But if I weren't so lazy about it, I might could bake up some serious beans...

My mother's family was named Spivey. Her ancestors generations back had been plantation and slave owners but by Mom's time they were minor farmers in southcentral Georgia. She had a slew of brothers, many of whom left the farm to settle (for reasons I've forgotten) in Shreveport, Louisiana, followed eventually by Granny and Granddaddy too.

One thing the guys took with them was the Spivey love (and recipe) for barbecue, nurtured I suppose by the farm's mysterious smokehouse shed. Though the brothers held regular jobs in Shreveport, they also opened a small barbecue joint and took turns running the day-to-day operation: brewing up sauce, making amazing hot sausage, cooking the various meats, fixing heaping plates of barbecue. The "Spivey Brothers" shop became a local hit, and soon the guys were bottling and selling their popular sauce--which packed some serious heat but kept a bit of sweet there too--out of the shop at first, but then straight to Shreveport food stores, and slowly spreading out across the wider area too.

By the mid-Fifties, Spivey Brothers Barbecue Sauce was available throughout most of Louisiana. The shop was still there, but the volume of wholesale business would soon require a move to a big sauce-making plant. The brothers had also added a hot red-pepper sauce that was starting to challenge Louisiana-mainstay Tabasco (which had not yet become the worldwide phenomenon it is today). I remember riding with Granddaddy in a small silver-metal truck, delivering the sauces to stores from northwest Louisiana on down to Cajun Country.

By the early Sixties, the business had expanded further eastward, becoming a small Southeast Region success. But like many small businesses, Spivey Brothers got in debt trying to get too big too fast (by then my parents had some money invested in them too); and when Kraft Foods came sniffing around, the best financial decision--taken with much regret--was to sell the sauce business to Kraft. The brothers signed documents promising not to relaunch and never to manufacture or sell their barbecue sauce again.

This should be where the story gets even bigger, right? Kraft spreading the Spivey name across the nation? Sadly no--instead the conglomerate just killed the Spivey product line, eliminating the competition completely. I fantasized that maybe Kraft's own sauce would take on a hotter Spivey Brothers tinge, but no chance; the Kraft brand sauces have always been too sweet for my taste, at least until recently. (Present-day barbecue fans may be dictating a wider choice of heat; I haven't checked.)

And so Spivey Brothers Barbecue Sauce was lost to the world...

Well, not completely. Some of my Spivey cousins have kept the original recipe alive; and I have Mom's youngest brother Bobby's partly handwritten directions--makes serious stuff, nearly three gallons of sauce at a time, uses one good ol' Southern source for sugar (bottles of Coca-Cola!), might curl your toes and spice up your nights if you ever got to sample it...

Sorry, can't tell you any more. My sauce-singed lips are sealed.

15 comments:

I Witness said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim Reeder said...

Periodically, I do a Google search for Spivey's Louisiana Barbecue sauce. My mother used to buy it at the Brookshire's in Shreveport, and I could bath in it I loved it so much! I never knew the story about Kraft, just knew the sauce disappeared. Had always hoped it would re-appear. I understand the desire to keep the recipe a secret, but any hints about creating it at home would be greatly appreciated here.

I Witness said...

hi. reach me at mistere@mistere.com and we can discuss the sauce some more. thanks, ed

Fat Husby said...

Hi! I was just reading through my mother's recipes today. She's 84 and lives in Minden, Louisiana. One of her recipes called for Spivey Barbeque Sauce and I hadn't ever heard of it. I live in North Carolina so I called and asked her about it and she said she hadn't been able to find it for a long time. She said it was so good! So I did a google search and found your story. I'll let her know what happened. Thanks!

David Hunter

I Witness said...

David, I suspected some folks would read about the sauce and remember it, but you are the second to email me in less than a week. I'm glad my uncles' efforts survive, one way or another.

tcabq said...

Spivey Brothers Barbeque is my favorite. It had a hickory smoked flavor and some authority. I lived in Vivian, Louisiana. We bought Spivey Brothers Barbecue at the local Piggly Wiggly. Thank you for posting the explanation of its absence.

I Witness said...

And thanks to you for the memories. I keep toying with the idea of releasing the recipe to folks like you who remember and still care. But then I get worried about the legal rights and keeping the thing still secret if more people are let in on the recipe. There's nothing to prevent any of us from selling a batch of sauce under some other name! Anybody have a solution?

Anonymous said...

1. If Kraft were to manufacture and distribute Spivey Brothers Barbecue, would they need an agreement with Coca Cola? I'm no lawyer, but it seems reasonable that if Kraft buys an ingredient, then they should be able to use it without permission or royalty. You don't need permission from Morton to add salt to food products.
2. Mother and dad told me that the Piggly Wiggly is now Tom's Market and stars in a Stephen King movie "The Mist."
3. Sometimes new products are manufactured and distributed in an effort to boost sales. While living in Vivian in the 1960s, one of my favorite snacks were Doritos taco flavored totilla chips. During the Christmas holidays, Frito Lay test marketed taco flavored Doritos and I purchased my share of them.
They now make and distribute taco flavored Doritos again. Nothing else tastes like them. You might write a letter to Kraft recommending that they test market Spivey Brothers Barbecue during the high season -- whenever that it is. Nothing else tastes like Spivey Brothers Barbecue.

I Witness said...

Good idea; a write-in campaign from 10 or 20 old fans of SBBS might actually cause Kraft to haul out the recipe they bought so long ago, if it even still exists in their files. Conglomerates are more willing these days to market rival products that are under the same corp umbrella.

Meanwhile, here's a correction I should have made long ago. The family recipe actually calls for ordinary sugar, not Coca-Cola; Uncle Bob just remarked in passing once that "you could use Co'-Colas if you got no sugar or molasses."

I'll say this much to Spivey fans: sugar is the only sweetener among about 15 ingredients--it's no wonder we few remember the sauce as hot and smoky!

Bill Sommerfeldt said...

I used to by Spivey's at the Piggly Wiggly in Texarkana, Texas. I can still smell and taste the best sauce in the world. Shame on Kraft for not putting a GREAT product on the market

I Witness said...

thanks for the praise. i'm planning to cook up a batch this summer and pass it out to friends.

Teri Greene said...

Every few years I do a search for Spivey Bros. barbecue sauce and was delighted today to find this. I grew up in Shreveport and absolutely loved SBBS.
Perry Spivey was a schoolmate and friend.
Always wondered why the sauce later became utterly unfindable.
I miss it so much. Should you ever feel like sharing the recipe, lemme know.
veryterigreene@yahoo.com
And thanks for the great story.

Teri Greene

I Witness said...

Hi, Terri. You might want to visit the sequel posted a few weeks back (Aug.2, 2012) to read about cooking up a batch and how I've tried to explain and (sort of) satisfy sauce fans' requests. I don't know where you reside, but you certainly have a past connection that might help. Maybe some real Spiveys would consider reviving the sauce with a name change for legal purposes; I have one name and ad campaign in mind... Thanks for the memories, Yankee Cousin Ed

Teri Greene said...

I just hope a righteous and amazing barbecue sauce can be shared with as many folk as possible.
Hopefully money will flow where deserved.

Kevin Jones said...

I grew up on Cross Lake and went to school and church with the entire Spivey clan...Sam, Tarver, and Beth were the kids about my age. I graduated from Fair Park with Beth.
I was telling my son about Spivey's Barbecue Sauce today and decided to Google it and found this blog.
I would dearly love to be able to make the stuff at home and would take the recipe to my grave. Can you share?
Ask Beth about the Jones twins.