DAMIEN NOBLE TALKS about his barbecue sauce the way others talk about true love or the Second Coming or the Harmonic Convergence or a miracle cure.
"It's time, it really is time," Noble says of the flood of sauce he is about to unleash on the Baltimore, Washington, Virginia region.
A foodie by birth -- his father owned a restaurant in Rochester, N.Y. -- Noble, 34, can't get barbecue sauce out of his veins.
Back in 1976, he began to play with assorted ingredients as well as spices picked up in Antigua. Noble continued his sauce experimentation through college in North Carolina and a failed marriage. The union "was doomed to fail," he says. "I was driven to push the sauce."
In 1982, Noble was living outside of Atlanta. By then, "I had a recipe just driving people out of their minds," he says. "People told me, 'If you don't put that on the market, you are crazy.'"
Noble says he was accepted to law school but decided not to go. Instead, while working for an insurance company, he kept pushing the sauce, marketed "by word of mouth." He says he would come home from work and find lots of money stuffed under his door, with orders for Damien's Original Sauce.
Later, Noble made his sauce known in Barbados -- where barbecue sauce is a fine art -- Brooklyn, and at far-flung cook offs, where he would challenge barbecue sauce winners to a taste duel.
"People say it's addictive," says Noble of his sauce, an uncooked, aged blend of natural ingredients and spices. The red-flecked, amber-colored sauce comes in "sweet and spicy," "sweet and mild," "sweet and hot," but always sweet.
"One gentleman calls it a form of liquid drug. When he runs out of it, people get angry," Noble says of a customer who buys in bulk.
The sauce, Noble affirms, is not limited to barbecue. "You could just as easily use it on lasagna, in spaghetti sauce, on Chinese food," he says. "It is truly an all-purpose sauce."
Noble and his business partner, Hamm Cottrell, maintain cloak-and-dagger secrecy over the sauce recipe, divulging just enough on the label to satisfy the Food and Drug Administration.
They are contracting with Texas, Florida and local farmers to grow sauce ingredients. Eventually the duo hopes to use Cottrell's family farm in Hydes as another sauce resource.
While Noble invokes sauce superlatives, Cottrell, a former stockbroker, looks for investors and holds forth on "vertical integration" of the company and other serious business chat. Cottrell hopes to expand the sauce's "mom and pop" clientele to larger grocery chains, including the Stop Shop & Save and Super Pride Market Chains. "We've got a lot of people thinking this is going to be a big hit, says Cottrell, who is also "finalizing a few deals with some private investors."
Currently, Damien's Special Sauce is available through mail order. Address orders to P.O Box 66012, Baltimore, Md. 21239 or call 435-3088. The sauce is $2.50 for 16 ounces, $3 for 32 ounces, $13 for a gallon. The price includes shipping. Noble will deliver large orders of sauce. His product is also available at Smokeshack Ribs in Oxon Hill.