East Meets West

Sauce ‘Brewer’ Brings Key Flavors Together

By Mary Moore

SLI Reporter

Michael Bell started his foray into the world of barbecue sauce nearly six years ago now. His signature blend of sweet Western North Carolina style and spicy, vinegary Eastern North Carolina style has earned his sauce a loyal following.

Bell wanted to create a flavor that would leave everyone satisfied — spicy but not too spicy, sweet but not too sweet. In 2016, Boss Bell’s BBQ Brew was born.

“Eastern is vinegar based, peppery, watery; Western style is sweeter, thicker and tomato based. I decided I would create a hybrid. I call it a “Tweaner.”

Recently, the Seven Lakes entrepreneur was pressured to make some changes in the face of a competitive market. Bell has taken his business mostly online. 

Michael “Boss” Bell. Contributed.

“It’s more of a hobby — the IRS definitely thinks so,” said Bell, chuckling. 

As Bell puts it, “everyone and his brother” is trying to make their own BBQ sauce. You walk into a grocery store and there will likely be somewhere around 40 to 50 different branded brews.

Even getting the product onto a grocery store shelf is no easy feat, said Bell. The process is complicated. A stylish logo is not enough to get the ball rolling. But a unique look doesn’t hurt, and this includes the classic, coke-shaped glass bottles that cemented Bell’s decision to stay with a local bottling company.

The mom-and-pop operation started out producing honey, though now a good portion of its products are original BBQ sauces like Bell’s. The glass is more expensive, but Bell is a stickler for quality.

“Every time I reach a point where I say I’m gonna quit, my sons tell me not to. I tell them, ‘listen when I start losing money, then I’ll just leave the recipe in my will for you.’”

Recently, problems arose with the company’s distributor, who wasn’t restocking the product in grocery stores as promised. Bell then made the decision to move all of his operation online, with the exception of bottles sold at Barron’s Boutique and BLUSH Salon, both in Seven Lakes. 

Bell’s favorite part of the whole business is speaking with buyers from all over the country — places as far as Canada or California. Just the other day he chatted with a Los Angeles-based customer who’d stumbled upon a glowing review of Bell’s sauce from an online food blog. The writer had picked up a bottle by chance from a trade show and was wild about it. Because Bell often brings along samples to events, the brew will occasionally be passed along before popping up at random destinations, inspiring fans along the way. 

It seems fitting that Bell’s branded bottles travel long distances, just like their creator. As the son of an active-duty soldier, Bell spent his childhood crisscrossing between various military communities in the Southeastern U.S. The man’s accent is a dead give-away that he spent a good deal of childhood in North Carolina.

Eventually, Bell’s father retired in Fayetteville. It was the same year his son graduated high school and enlisted to serve in Vietnam. 

After a few years in the military, Bell moved on to a career with the N.C. Department of Public Safety as a prison warden, and worked in several more places at different facilities.

During his travels, the barbecue lover sampled a wide array of sauces, cataloguing different styles. Eventually, he took to the kitchen to create his own recipe, which eventually became “Boss” Bell’s BBQ Brew.  

When Bell remarried and moved to Aberdeen, he retired. The couple eventually chose Seven Lakes North for their permanent home.

Bell said his family is forgoing traditional holiday plans for Christmas this year, in favor of a group stay at the beach. There will surely be barbecue, and it’s a good thing that Michael Bell has created a crowd-pleasing sauce. If they haven’t already, his four granddaughters are about to get their first lesson on a traditional, North Carolina delicacy.   

If you’d like to get your hands on a bottle of Boss Bell’s BBQ Brew too, visit Barron’s Boutique, 1107 Seven Lakes Drive; Blush Salon, 980 Seven Lakes Dr North; or the maker’s official website: http://www.bossbells.com

Contact Mary Moore at (910) 693-2462 or mmoore@thepilot.com.