A White Entrepreneur Is Trying to Gentrify Chicago’s “Mild Sauce”

(Photo by Tracy A. Woodward/The The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Chicago chef Clayton Weber is bottling up and selling “That Mild Sauce,” he says he was inspired by native Chicagoans and their relationship with the condiment.

Mild sauce is synonymous with fried chicken in Chicago, for many black Chicagoans it’s a staple that they’ve been eating for generations. Takeouts and well-known spots typically sell the sauce as a side. Clayton Weber, a Chicago chef who is also a white entrepreneur is looking to cash in on the experience by selling a bottled-up version of the add-on called “That Mild Sauce.” He has hopes of selling it online and also in grocery stores, according to Block Club Chicago

This possibility creates an opportunity for Chicagoans to explore how important the condiment is to them. The commodification of mild sauce appears to be a bit exploitive to Chicago natives who are black. 

According to Charlotte Lyons, former food editor of Ebony magazine, the condiment is created with ketchup, hot sauce and barbecue sauce. The Chicago Tribune attributes Uncle Remus Saucy Fried Chicken as one of the main originators of the mild sauce, the restaurant was founded in 1964 by Gus Rickett Sr. and his late wife Mary Rickett.

One native Phade Waze originally from Bronzeville shared: “They become aware of something, and they seek to own it. Black culture is something that people feel like they can just take and commodify. Our culture isn’t accepted as culture. It’s seen as a fad or a trend that people don’t have to respect the creators of it.” Other Facebook users shared their disappointment in what one user called the “colonization” of the Chicago staple. 

Weber has expressed that he and his business partners have been eating mild sauce for years. He also shared that a bit after creating his company, he began shipping out “That Mild Sauce” to those who used to live in Chicago. It was inspired by his experiences.

He later admitted in a statement that the condiment was created without collaborating with Harold’s, or Uncle Remus, or JJ’s, or Shark’s, or Crystal’s which are known widely in Chicago. “Nor have those places partnered with each other or reached out to us. We just created another version in the market.”

Charmaine Rickett, CEO of Uncle Remus Saucy Fried Chicken and daughter of the restaurant’s founder doesn’t find it uncommon for someone to create their own version of their beloved sauce.  “Certainly any idea, a recipe, and an invention that we’ve had, it’s not uncommon for someone to take it,” she said. “I can understand how some folks feel like, hey, its a cultural icon and how dare he. But my response to that— it’s free enterprise.” Rickett also said “I don’t think [their] mild sauce can compare to our mild sauce.”

Weber later shared that he understands native Chicagoans believe he appropriated their version of the condiment. “I empathize with the deep connection and pride people have with their culture, whatever culture that may be,” he said. “The passion we feel about our music, clothing and even food, is profound. And I completely respect and cherish that.”

Source: Block Club Chicago

Robyn Mowatt

Robyn Mowatt is a Staff Writer at Okayplayer where she covers culture, music, and fashion. You can see what's on her mind on Twitter at @robyn_mowatt.

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Robyn Mowatt
Tags: Chicago

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