Growing up in Muncie, Lathay Pegues’ grandfather meant the world to him. “When I wasn’t home, I was at Grandpa’s house,” the Indiana Artisan says about John Tom Branson.
If there was one thing Lathay loved almost as much as his grandpa, it was John Tom’s homemade barbecue sauce.
“My grandpa’s sauce was very good,” he says. “It was tangy, and he would make a hot version I liked. He called it Sneaky Hot,” a name Lathay continues to use for one of his two JohnTom’s Barbecue sauces.
The 11-year-old was crushed when his hero suddenly died. “My grandpa, in the midst of retirement, was planning to open a BBQ joint when he suffered a fatal heart attack,” Lathay says. “I promised to keep his dream alive.”
It was not an easy promise to keep. John Tom never wrote down his recipe.
“In 1998 when I was at Indiana University, I made my first attempt at trying to recreate Grandpa’s sauce,” Lathay says. “I used an already established product and added my own ingredients to it. The more I got involved, I realized I couldn’t take some well-known product, add my ingredients and call it my own. So, I started over from scratch with a can of tomato sauce and raw ingredients to create my very own recipe.”
Developing a sauce he wanted to serve to others wasn’t an overnight process. It took Lathay almost five years of persistent trial and error, values he learned from John Tom.
“Barbecue sauce is one of those special condiments that touches each corner of the globe,” he says. “While Indiana has never carved out its own uniqueness to be considered a regional influence, we are determined to find what makes the state stand alone in the barbecue world.”
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