It’s not hard to figure out the secret ingredient in Kenai Premier BBQ Sauce; it’s enthusiasm. Bryan Schmunk and his partner Cheryl Russo man the Kenai stand at the Moreland Farmers Market with the kind energy and passion that makes you feel they are destined for success. Bryan has an entrepreneurial gleam in his eye as he describes where his brand has come from and where it’s going.
Bryan’s father, Jim, was a butcher on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, who created the sauce 20 years ago so his customers would have a high quality sauce to accompany his high quality meat. The original batches were cooked up in the family kitchen and bottled in repurposed Gatorade containers for friends, family and loyal customers. They began commercial production in 2011, distributing the sauce through butcher shops and markets across Alaska.
Bryan brought his family’s sauce here in 2013. Small batches are made and bottled locally in Lake Oswego and sold through quality butchers and markets throughout Oregon following the same strategy his dad used in Alaska. But Bryan and Cheryl have plans to expand the brand beyond bottles on shelves. In addition to hand-selling the sauce at farmer’s markets all around Portland, they have created a menu of sandwiches and snacks at their stand. Cheryl drew on her extensive restaurant experience to create a roster of dishes featuring meat from local farms and highlighting their range of sauces.
The customer favorite at the Moreland Farmers Market is the pulled pork sandwich, an easy choice for dinner at the market after work on Wednesdays. Bryan points out, “Everything on our menu is locally sourced and healthy as well. There’s health food and there’s soul food. We make soul food, but you have to try to get your soul food as healthy as possible.”
Kenai Premier BBQ sauce is MSG and gluten free, contains no high fructose corn syrup and is the lowest sodium BBQ sauce on the market. It comes in four heat levels from Mild to Extreme Spicy, which is apparently so hot Bryan has yet to bring it to the Moreland market. The sauce is tomato-based with escalating levels of heat from jalapeño, cayenne and chili pepper, and you can tell what you’re in for because the darker the label the hotter it gets. However, as Bryan’s father emphasizes, “We’re looking to give you a flavorful sauce not a hot sauce.”
Bryan and Cheryl are scouting locations for a restaurant possibly in the Sellwood/Moreland neighborhood based on the warm reception they have received since coming to the Farmers Market. Until then you can enjoy their sandwiches on Wednesdays, take home a bottle of sauce for your own BBQ or whip up a recipe from their website:www.kenaipremierbbqsauce.com