Thursday, March 24, 2011
CONWAY Curly-Bob’s his name. Making special sauce is his game.
OK, so his real name is Robert Rolf — a boisterous, bald biker with a love for cooking.
The Conway man does them all so well that Curly-Bob’s Special Sauce is sold in more than 200 locations throughout Arkansas and one county in Missouri.
“I got tired of Tabasco sauce; I wanted something that was mine,” he said.
Rolf began experimenting with the sauce in the 1990s on a propane burner in his garage.
“I started playing with this stuff and cooking 2 gallons at a time and giving it away; then I was making 5 gallons and still giving it away, and one day I was sitting out here with a boat paddle and a 25-gallon pot, and more people were asking for it,” he said, laughing.
A former Army buddy of Rolf’s, retired Master Sgt. Erv Baty of Missouri, had been “a regular guzzler,” as Rolf put it.
One day as they talked on the phone, Baty urged him to market the sauce.
Rolf, who retired after 30 years in the Army, realized he couldn’t make the sauce in his garage, or even his kitchen. After researching installing a commercial kitchen, he knew that would be cost-prohibitive. Rolf found a Food and Drug Administration-approved kitchen in Benton, a company called TasteBuds.
He and TasteBuds owner John Beck spent the day together and “cooked up a batch,” Rolf said. He said it was more delicious than what he made at home because of the fresh spices.
“We use the freshest and finest we can get,” Rolf said.
Beck put Rolf onto Carol Barlow of Benton, who helped Rolf design the yellow, red and white label, which features a quintessential Rolf with sunglasses. His wife, Carol, took the photo on one of the couple’s motorcycle jaunts down Route 66.
He wasn’t going to use his photo at first, but with a name like Curly-Bob’s, he just had to.
Now, about the name. Where’d he get it, given that he doesn’t have any hair?
“A barmaid in a biker bar in Missouri,” he said, laughing, “’cause I shaved my head, and my first name’s Robert.”
Rolf has been in sales a few times before — he once was a top furniture salesman in Little Rock — so that part isn’t hard for him.
The sauce is vinegar-based, made of all natural ingredients.
“The most beautiful thing about the sauce is that it’s an Arkansas product, and it’s 100 percent natural,” he said. “You can pronounce everything on the label.
“We called it Special Sauce, because it’s so versatile,” Rolf explained. “You can use it as an ingredient, a barbecue sauce, as a dipping sauce. It’s not hot, but it’s spicy, and it’s at a level that the whole family can use it.”
He maintained that Curly-Bob’s Special Sauce is “good on everything from asparagus to brownies.”
Rolf said he and a grocery-store owner sat in the back of the store one day and tried the sauce on a variety of foods, including ice cream and oranges.
It was really good on chocolate ice cream, Rolf said. The only pairing they didn’t like was vanilla ice cream with Curly-Bob’s topping.
“It tasted too salty,” he said.
One of his favorite things to do with Curly-Bob’s Special Sauce is to put it in apple pie. He said the taste of the sauce doesn’t come through, but it enhances other spices in the pie.
He has several recipes on his website, web.me.com/curlybob. Some recipes are named after friends and neighbors who have used Curly-Bob’s Special Sauce to make their own dishes. He said a recipe “people ooh and gaga over” is Curly-Bob’s Special Chops.
Carol Rolf said one of her favorites is Curly-Bob’s Pork Loin.
Rolf said he eats the sauce every day, sometimes starting his day with it on eggs and hash browns. Guests to their home seem partial to dipping fruits and vegetables in the sauce, he said.
He made his first sale in 2009 (although he can’t remember to whom), and now his sauce is in grocery stores, health-food stores, restaurants and gift shops in cities throughout Arkansas, as well as two locations in Missouri. The sauce is also for sale in all Arkansas state park gift shops, he said.
The website lists dates for his demonstrations, where he gets to meet customers and offer samples made with the sauce.
“I autograph a lot of bottles,” he said.
He usually talks about Curly-Bob in third person.
“People will say, ‘Are you Curly-Bob?’ I say, ‘No, but I know him real well,’” said Rolf, who likes to joke.
“I do that for a reason — I want to keep people on their toes.”
Carol said the reaction he gets can be amusing.
“What’s funny is when we go out to eat and there’s a bottle on the table, and they’ll say, ‘Are you Curly-Bob?’”
He’s got a new product to launch soon — a rub. It’s a great complement to the sauce, he said.
Rolf isn’t getting rich doing this — he hasn’t paid himself, yet. All his proceeds go back into the business.
“I do it because it’s fun — the key word is fun,” he said.