Before New Orleans native Dwayne Thompson became the “boss behind the sauce,” creating Big Daddy Sauces, he was a Hurricane Katrina survivor. “We were at the Morial Convention Center for three days…and what you saw on TV you could kind of multiply by 100,” laments Thompson.
And since his mother’s car had the most gas, she told Thompson to take the car and leave town with his wife and kids while she stayed at the Convention Center as a frontline worker. “My wife at the time was working for AT&T, and they gave her three cities to choose from,” says Thompson. “I was a salesman at the time and knew I could survive anywhere, so since my wife’s best friend lived here, we decided to come to Birmingham.”
That turned out to be a good decision, especially for the good schools for their children. But Thompson had to get his hustle on. He learned to cook as a latch-key kid while his mother worked multiple jobs. He also learned from attending family barbecues.
“In New Orleans, they have this thing called ‘making plates,’ and you sell plates of food out of your house. It’s not legal with the health department, but a lot of people did it, including me,” Thompson admits. He continues, “But when I got to Birmingham, I was looking for a way to have an extra income. So I was cooking outside of nightclubs and bars. But God had delivered me from that dangerous nightlife scene, so I really wasn’t feeling it. You know, it’s three o’clock in the morning and you’re hearing gunshots,” he recalls.
Saucing Like a Boss
But while barbecuing outside one of the nightclubs, two different men during two different weeks said the same thing to Thompson, “Man, you need to put this sauce in a bottle!” That’s when he knew God was trying to tell him something.
“So I went home and did the research to see what was needed to manufacture and put the sauce in a bottle,” notes Thompson. But in Alabama, in order to sell an acidic sauce, you have to take a class to become a certified acidic food manufacturer. “The class is only held twice a year, and when I called, it was the last week of the last class and I got in. So that was my confirmation that I was doing the right thing,” Thompson says.
By 2015 he had created Big Daddy Sauces LLC with his Big Daddy Bomb BBQ Sauce, his Big Daddy Shake & Rub All-Purpose Seasoning, and his Big Daddy swag, like t-shirts and aprons. “When I was at my heaviest, I was 576 pounds, and years ago my name on the street was Big Heavy,” admits Thompson. “Also, I love being a dad, and I love being a husband, but I didn’t want to go with Big Hubby, so I went with Big Daddy,” he laughs.
Thompson doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar location but promotes his products through catering events. “I’ve catered everything from weddings to personal events, to the national guard,” he states. “I love meatballs and do an alfredo and barbeque sauce for them, and I also do a Cajun pasta.”
He continues, “I’m a seafood head, so I love cooking salmon, shrimp and frying fish. I do a great rib and half-pound burger, but my highest demand is for my pulled pork—I’m known as a ‘pulled pork-ologist,’” he laughs.
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Creating Demand for Big Daddy Sauces
Thompson loves to see people’s reaction when they taste his sauce for the first time but says it’s been a challenge getting them to see that it’s not just a barbeque sauce, but a cooking sauce. “People say things like, ‘whenever I pull out the grill, I’ll get some of your sauce,’ and I’m like, ‘Man, you can put this sauce on spaghetti, you can put it in meatloaf, you can put it with eggs and wash your fried foods with it,” explains Thompson.
Describing the taste, Thompson says Big Daddy Bomb BBQ Sauce is “sweet with a little heat.” “The high end would be garlic, the middle would be heat and the low end is herbs and spices,” he explains. “One of the things that makes it stand out from other sauces is that it has a mixture of citrus juice that really brings out the taste of the flavor.”
Thompson uses his Big Daddy Shake & Rub All-Purpose Seasoning on his vegetables. “I sauté asparagus and do a Brussel sprout and cauliflower mix,” he shares. “And I do grilled pineapples and even did a meatless pineapple burger.”
The products are so popular that at one time they were in 17 stores in New Orleans and more than 20 stores in Birmingham, but without the demos to get shoppers to taste the product, it just sat on the shelves. “I’d like my sauce to be sold nationwide and worldwide. I’ve sent it to friends in Germany, Australia, and the U.K,” says Thompson. “But I had to make a decision as to whether I wanted to be in a bunch of stores and not really selling, or scale down and get the product in people’s mouths.”
He continues, “So I scaled down to a smaller number of stores so that I could go visit and do tastings and shake hands with people, so the people get to know me and my product better.”
One of the stores where Big Daddy Sauces products are doing well is Piggly Wiggly in Bluff Park, about 10 miles south of Birmingham. “Dwayne came to our store and did demos and people liked it,” says store manager Shane Miller. “And we had a day when he would come out every other week with his food truck. So people started tasting his barbeque sauce and spices on his ribs, pulled pork and nachos, and that’s when we really started cranking out sales of his [products],” Miller shares.
Other stores that eat up Thompson’s products in Birmingham and the surrounding area include Green Acres Cafe, The Cajun Cleaver butcher shop, Hoover Seafood Market. Bizarre The Coffee Bar uses the sauce in their bloody marys, O’ My Turkey Leg food truck seasons their turkey legs with it, and Blues, Bourbon & Brews uses Big Daddy Bomb BBQ sauce in place of tomato sauce for its pizzas.
In the early months of the pandemic, when Piggly Wiggly had to stop doing demos and samplings, Thompson was still able to provide those through his food truck visits. Miller says Thompson’s big personality also draws the customers. “He’s probably my top Alabama vendor and about number two among my national vendors,” Miller proclaims. He continues, “Dwayne has a good following with a lot of return customers, so we expect to have a partnership with him for a while because he’s a winner.”
Big Love for the Community
The move to Birmingham has also made Thompson a winner in his personal life. He found love again with Vickie Ashford-Thompson, who he met at a fundraiser and married about a year later. They won a contest to have their wedding paid for via the show “Talk of Alabama” on ABC 33/40. And though they both admit they’re opposites in many ways, Thompson says marrying Vickie was the best decision he ever made.
“We’re both in the same place spiritually, and she’s that support, making sure I’m in the right place at the right time and that I’m looking good,” he says. “We were just married in February of 2020 and in September of 2020, I had to tell her that God was leading me to leave my stable job to do this full-time. And without hesitation, she said God had already spoken to her spirit too and she was more than supportive of my move,” he declares.
Ashford-Thompson says she likes Thompson’s creativity and originality in his cooking and ability to connect well with people. “I’m proud that he reaches back to help anyone trying their hand at entrepreneurship,” says Ashford-Thompson, who is director of marketing and communications at the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I’ve watched Dwayne on several occasions offer advice to his ‘competitors.’ That is very unusual, but that is very much who he is,” she says with pride.
Thompson loves helping people and giving back to the community. As a former employee of the Birmingham Police Department, he has supported many police events, especially memorials, with free food and even started a nonprofit called Youth Against Violence.
He specializes in conflict resolution and life skills. “I’m looking for a platform where I can teach entrepreneurship to youth who feel like they don’t have a way out and how to take their hustle and make it legitimate,” he shares.
And the award-winning chef has an even bigger goal for the future. “New Orleans is known for a lot of things in the culinary world…but you can’t name one barbecue pitmaster from New Orleans, so I want to be that pitmaster,” Thompson asserts. “I also long to be an actual personality on TV, like for the Food Network. I’m not chasing the fame as much as I’m chasing the ability to show the world that God can do anything with anybody and that you should follow your dreams.”