by Ginna Parsons // photos by Lindsay Pace
About 15 years ago, Zane Alford started puttering in his kitchen, trying to find just the right ingredients to make a special sauce – not really a barbecue sauce or a marinade, but more like a condiment you could put on anything.
“He played around with it forever, but last year he finally got it where he wanted it to be,” said Zane’s wife, Kathy Jo.
The couple called their sauce Sherin, a combination of the names of their daughters, Shelby and Erin. They began giving Sherin Sauce away to friends and family and Zane’s customers in the crop insurance business.
“I’d make two gallons at a time and we’d put it in old ketchup bottles or whatever we had around,” Zane said. “People didn’t care what it came in. One day we carried it to a guy as a gift and he said, ‘Zane, this is pretty good,’ and I said, ‘Thank you.’ And he said, ‘I don’t think you understand what I mean. You need to be selling it.’”
So in May 2019, Zane and Kathy Jo graduated from old ketchup bottles to Mason jars and started taking their Sherin Sauce to farmers’ markets and festivals in Batesville, Oxford, Water Valley, Grenada and Charleston.
“We carried it to the Midtown Farmers Market in Oxford and this older man came up to me and said, ‘What have you got there?’ and I told him, ‘This is the soon-to-be-world-famous Sherin Sauce,’” Zane said. “He laughed and then he tried it. The next week he came back and he said, ‘Let me give you some advice. Don’t stop what you’re doing. You’ve got something here.’”
Sherin Sauce is hard to describe. It’s less sweet and thinner than traditional barbecue sauce, although it can be a barbecue sauce or a marinade. But the uses don’t stop there.
“We’re not categorized as a barbecue sauce,” Kathy Jo said. “We look at this as the next big condiment you use on anything – spaghetti, chicken salad, in place of ketchup. We have a Facebook page and I put on there how we use it and post recipes and people tell different ways they use it.”
Once the Alfords realized people would pay for their sauce, they quickly found a commercial kitchen in the Delta, where it’s produced today in 16-ounce bottles. Sherin Foods has two employees – Zane and Kathy Jo.
“He’d make a big batch and pour it into pitchers, and I’d take the pitchers and use a funnel to fill the bottles,” Kathy Jo said. “Then we’d bring the bottles home and put the labels on them.”
The equipment they use now is a little more sophisticated, but the original recipe is still the same.
“We carried it to a co-packer to see about making it in bulk for us and we got the samples back and it wasn’t right,” Zane said. “He was using inferior ingredients.”
“That’s when we knew we had to keep doing it ourselves,” Kathy Jo said.
Along the way, the couple added a second product, Sherin Spicy Sauce, which Zane describes as spicy, but not hot. They also have an all-purpose seasoning, Sherin Spice, that’s ready to be rolled out but not on shelves yet.
“We are now in 53 grocery stores and boutiques, mostly in Mississippi and Tennessee,” Kathy Jo said.
“And we’re slated to be in 200 stores by the end of the summer,” Zane said. “As demand continues to spike, we’re continuing to find ways to meet the supply needs. I had an order the other day for 26 cases. If we did that five days a week, we’d be doing OK.”
The next steps for Sherin Foods are to hire employees to help in the kitchen and with distribution, and to move the commercial kitchen from the Delta to the Alfords’ 87-acre farm in Enid. Zane also wants to expand the line to include a hot sauce, white sauce, another spice and Sherin jerky.
“Our goal is to be a brand, not just a product,” Kathy Jo said. “We’re so thankful to friends and family who have given us encouragement to do this. We’ve had a lot of support and a lot of help.”
Another goal, Kathy Jo said, is to give back to organizations that are important to the couple, such as First Baptist Church in Batesville and the Shriner’s Hospital.
“The more we get into this, the more we realize if God continues to bless it, it’s something that can be carried on by our children,” Zane said. “We owe everything to him. As the Lord keeps opening doors, I’m going to keep walking through them.”