SINCE 1988

Why Moe’s Original BBQ Started Selling its Sauce on Retail Shelves


Moe’s Original BBQ got its start in 1988 when three friends who met at the University of Alabama realized they shared an affinity for Southern barbecue. Eventually the friends – Mike Fernandez, Ben Gilbert and Jeff Kennedy – relocated to Vail, Colo., and took their cooking skills with them as they opened up the first of what is now an over-50-unit barbecue chain with locations in 13 states.

The concept’s growth has intentionally been slow and steady, but about five years ago, the team brought on Jeff Pendleton as director of franchise operations, to focus a bit more on expansion. Little did they know at the time that expansion also meant growing into new channels. Earlier this summer, Moe’s began selling its red sauce in 12 oz. bottles at select retail stores, on its website, and in its restaurants. The impetus behind the retail launch after about 35 years in business was simple demand.

“We toyed around with this idea during Covid, of wanting to be with you wherever you are. Retail sauce was a way for us to share in those gatherings and tailgate parties and catered events,” Pendleton said during a recent interview. “And so, we were selling our sauce in mason jars in restaurants because people wanted to take it home, and there were a ton of requests. That showed us there was a market to do something professional.”

The process took some time. Moe’s had to identify a boutique manufacturer that was going to preserve the recipe and bring it to market with a shelf life of at least 18 months, for instance. Moe’s also wanted the sauce sold in glass bottles, even though it wasn’t as cost effective. The idea was to ensure premium positioning at retail stores. Those stores, by the way, are local and regional because the goal is to take baby steps, Pendleton said.

“We want to create the demand, so we started with retailers in markets where we already have the brand recognition,” he said. “National is the goal, but we don’t want to get too far over the front of our skis, as they say in Colorado, and we will stay conservative while growing.”

In addition to expanding into more retailers, Moe’s is also hoping to develop more sauces and a barbecue rub and have them available by Christmas. Pendleton admits the company isn’t inventing the wheel, and in fact several restaurant brands big and small have ramped up their presence on retail shelves. That’s not to say there isn’t room for more, however.

“We sell single bottles and cases through our website and have started to really gain tracking. Nothing is really blowing the doors off, but there is definitely a market for us,” Pendleton said.

Moe’s is on its second manufacturing run of the product since its launch. Throughout the next month, Pendleton expects the sauce to be in 60 different accounts and then expand beyond 100. Ultimately, he believes the retail expansion could support the restaurant brand’s expansion.

“We’re definitely planning on growing, which is one of the reasons I joined the brand – to develop the systems and teams to grow,” he said. “Now, with the retail channel, we’re making the brand more accessible and reaching beyond our footprint. It’s early for retail and we’re just keeping our feet on the ground. But things are going really well. Early indicators are that this was a solid move that is gaining momentum.”

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