A few weeks ago I wrote a column about Al’s Deli struggling to pay its rent. As part of the newsletter and the article we included the link to the GoFundMe page that a customer had started for Al’s Deli in 2020.

I took a look at the fundraising page again this week and was impressed to see that the page had raised more than $16,000 in little over two weeks. 

The RoundTable was not the only one to draw attention to Al’s Deli’s situation (a number of local Facebook groups did also), but it is impressive how the community came together to help owners John and Bob Pottinger.

Verzell James next to one of his raised beds in which he grows produce for his sauces. Credit: Isabelle Reiniger

Meanwhile, one of our readers sent me an email pointing out other Evanston businesses that currently have GoFundMe pages, among them Awe-Sauce, Evanston-made hot sauce

My first introduction to Awe-Sauce was at the West End Market this past October. I bought six out of the 10 flavors that owner Verzell James carried.

I have some hot sauce lovers at my house and the sauces come packaged in 1.7-ounce bottles, making it easy to try out different flavors. 

“Now we have 11 flavors, the latest one was introduced two Fridays ago,” James told me this week. This latest is called “AfroRengue” and it is designed to go well with blackened foods. The brand is really an artisan hot sauce, focused on refined flavors and a range of spiciness levels. “I am looking at larger bottles now,” he said and showed me a choice for his potential new five-ouncer.

The Awe-Sauce brand was launched in December 2017, James told me and he shared that it has been produced and bottled in the commercial kitchen at Family Focus on Dewey Avenue. 

The organically grown ingredients come from his own garden and local farms. James’ reason for having a GoFundMe page is that it is part of a multistrategy approach of raising funds to expand the business: 1. Continue selling his product; 2. Turn business into S-Corp and get investors; 3. Crowd funding via GoFundMe page

James showing off his latest flavor, AfroRengue. Credit: Isabelle Reiniger

Business has been going well enough that Awe-Sauce is outgrowing the Family Focus kitchen that James shares with another business. His plan is to find a space that allows for a larger production.

His sauce is currently sold at D&D Finer Foods, 825 Noyes St.; Schaefer’s Wines, Foods & Spirits, 9965 Gross Point Rd, Skokie; Village Farmstand, 810 Dempster St.; Lemoi Ace Hardware, 1008 Davis St.; and Mars Cheese Castle, Kenosha, Wis. You can also buy it directly at Awe-Sauce.com.

Moving to a larger space would increase capacity as well as employees. James has hired young adults from the ETHS T.E.A.M.S. (formerly Transition House) program and works closely with Nicole Johnson, the ETHS special education transition coordinator for the program. “Mr. James has an amazing spirit, and his willingness to work with and employ underrepresented and underserved populations is really special,” Johnson shared in an email with me. “I am grateful for his partnership and his support of our students and program. It is truly an honor to work with him.”

According to the GoFundMe Page, James has been looking at space in Skokie. However, he said, Fifth Ward City Council Member Bobby Burns “is trying to keep the business in Evanston.”

“I definitely think we could help him in Evanston,” Burns said when I talked with him. He pointed out, though, that city programs are more geared toward brick-and-mortar businesses.

“We have staff that can help him think through his business model and help him find space and find vendors,” Burns said. “I would love to see him get into Valli [Produce] … I’d like to see us do this for more people,” referring to the city’s development team for small local businesses.

As a consumer, I enjoy buying local products and, even though this is somewhat silly, it feels like I can be part of it because they are produced in Evanston. 

Maybe this is connected to creating a sense of community. 

But these sauces also make great gifts! As for the GoFundMe page, this one is less of a rescue initiative and more of a supportive measure that would allow a small Evanston business to grow.

Isabelle Reiniger

Isabelle Reiniger, LCSW is a writer and psychotherapist in private practice in Evanston. She reports on local businesses opening and closing for the Evanston RoundTable. Reach Isabelle at isabelle@evanstonroundtable.com

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  1. Thanks for writing this article about the delicious hot sauce produced by Verzell James. Hey to anyone reading the article, how about buying some and share with family, friends and your neighbors. Let’s celebrate a local company that can say, “made in Evanston.”