A century ago, on a Jamaican sugar plantation, Damien
Noble's great-great-grandmother concocted a sweet and tangy sauce that eventually would change his life.
He received the recipe in 1976, upon graduating from high school. It came with this advice from his grandmother: "If you use it wisely, it will take care of you for the rest of your life."
"I wanted a car," Mr. Noble recalls, "but looking back, it was the best gift I could have ever gotten."
Last August, Mr. Noble took his grandmother's advice and launched L.D.N. Marketing Inc., based in South Baltimore, which makes the sauce in three flavors under the trade name Damien's Original Sauce.
The company sports the bumps and bruises typical of a new business. Marketing mistakes, combined with start-up costs, have kept it in the red. The company faces a crowd of saucy challengers. And Mr. Noble is searching for $740,000 to build the business.
Still, one month shy of its first anniversary, Damien's Original Sauce -- in mild, hot and spicy flavors -- already is on the shelves of 328 retail outlets in 11 states and Washington, D.C. That includes 82 SuperFresh/A&Ps, 60 Safeways, 68 I.G.A.s and 20 Giant Food stores. Twelve stores in the Caribbean also carry the versatile sauce, which can be used as a dip for seafoods, a salad dressing or a barbecue sauce for grilled foods.
"To have managed to get into the big companies -- apparently he has the formula," said Robert McMath, director of the New Products Showcase in Ithaca, N.Y.
Mr. Noble's formula, some say, is Mr. Noble. The 35-year-old "Sauce Boss" fuses the attributes of an old-fashioned salesman and a modern entrepreneur -- proudly displaying his picture on his sauce bottles, for example. And grocers say his enthusiasm has helped the sauce gain valuable shelf space in Giant Food and other grocery stores.
To see the two sides of Mr. Noble, consider his plans for marketing Sea Moss, a vanilla milkshake-like drink popular in the Caribbean. There's an open market for the drink here, he says, which could mean big profits -- that's the modern entrepreneur. But how will he market the drink? Well, in documents circulated to potential investors, he mentions its taste, as well as the belief that it can enhance sexual prowess -- that's the old-fashioned salesman.
Right now, he's focused on boosting sales of Damien's Original Sauce. He plans to introduce out garlic and onion flavors of Damien's Original Sauce later this year. And by the end of 1993, he hopes to capture 1 percent of sauce sales in the region that stretches from Norfolk, Va., to Philadelphia -- bringing an estimated $4 million in revenue to his company.