Imagine for a moment the taste of garlic and onion, but also a slight bite of Scotch Bonnet Pepper with turmeric and hickory smoke flavor added.
“That’s how I fed my children vegetables,” Julie Watts shared when we sat down together at Cupitol on Grove Street.
We were talking about Old Arthur’s Gold Dust Dry Rub used for pork, poultry and vegetables.
My own 17-year-old son seemed to like the rub, but Old Arthur’s Barbecue sauce (the company’s namesake) seemed to be even more to his taste. No wonder it won first prize at the National Barbecue & Grilling Associations award ceremony in 2022 in the category of Tomato Mild BBQ Sauce.
Then, the family returned to the event and took home first prize in the Tomato Spicy Sauce category with the spicy version of their BBQ sauce!
Julie Watts is married to Eudell Watts IV and together with Eudell’s father, Eudell Watts III and the Watts’ three kids (Eudell Watts V, Simone and Christian) they run the family business, Old Arthur’s Barbecue Sauce.
“Our goal is, honestly, to create generational wealth for the kids and other family members,” Julie Watts said.
But with so many Eudalls where does Old Arthur come in? That, it turns out, is a powerful story.
Old Arthur started in BBQ at age 6
The story of Arthur Watts begins in 1837 when he was born a slave in Missouri.
“His primary task from around the age of 6 was tending the cooking fires on the estate that bonded him,” the family says on the company’s website.
Arthur soon began experimenting “with the freshest natural ingredients available to him to perfect his sauce to complement the meats he prepared over an open pit.
“When freed at the age of 27 by the Emancipation Proclamation, his recipes were the only possessions of value that he took with him out of bondage.”
Arthur Watts left on foot and went north.
“The first free state he got to was Iowa,” Julie Watts explained. He stayed at a crossroads town called Udell and heard there was work in Illinois.
“He took the train hobo style to Illinois,” Julie Watts said and ”a year later he married and had his first son. He named his son after the first place he rested his head as a free man.”
Old Arthur did not read or write and changed the spelling, but ever since his descendants have named their first born son Eudell to honor Arthur.
This is generational BBQ
From the start, Julie Watts noticed that this family would barbecue at any occasion.
“Barbecuing is literally in their DNA,” she said of her husband’s family. ”Whenever there was an event – a graduation, a wedding, a rehearsal dinner – they had a barbecue.”
When she first encountered Old Arthur’s BBQ sauce, she said “you’ve got to bottle this.” This didn’t happen until about 12 years ago, when her father-in-law began to get more serious about starting a business after his retirement.
Julie Watt’s husband Eudell Watts IV still works full-time for Johnson & Johnson and they all moved to Evanston in 2011.
The idea to take the Old Arthur company seriously started in 2017 when they started building the brand. It went from selling online via the website, to Amazon, Peapod and Mariano’s. Despite some setbacks and the impact of COVID-19 the business has grown.
Today Eudell Watt IV, his son Eudell Watts V and the rest of the family have each taken up roles in the company. Eudell Watts V takes on many different roles (marketing, demonstrations and orders) but Julie Watts and her other two children also work on online orders and social media.
The products are prepared in a commercial kitchen in the Quad Cities in Iowa. But the company has its warehouse in Libertyville, although the business operations are run out of Evanston.
Homestead Meats in Evanston is the only place you can buy the product off the shelf in Evanston. The store’s mission is to sell local products. “I don’t carry any other BBQ sauces,” owner Ehran Ostrreicher shared during a phone conversation.
If you have a chance to catch Eudell Watts IV at one of their demonstration events (as I did a week ago at the Chicago Artisan Market), I recommend striking up a conversation with him and his family. There have so many interesting and moving stories.
“I need the world to know Arthur’s story, but I also need my children to know where they fit in his legacy,” he said in a podcast called Better Call Daddy in which he shares some of them.
What a wonderful story and legacy. Their sauces and rubs are the best I’ve tasted!
Thank you for telling the Watts family’s fascinating success story!
Thank you to the RoundTable for covering this fascinating story. And now I’ve got to go buy their products!!