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Dave Raymond aka Sweet Baby Ray: Meet the BBQ Pro

Posted By: Richard Wachtel
Published: July 21, 2011

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Oh boy Grilling with Rich Fans, do we have a great Meet the BBQ Pro for this week. We are so excited to interview one of the guys behind the ever popular barbecue sauce: Sweet Baby Ray: aka Dave Raymond which is Sponsored by Hot Box Grills! Sweet Baby Rays Barbecue Sauce was one of the first Barbecue Sauce reviews we ever did, so I was so excited to get a chance to interview Dave.

Dave Raymond aka Sweet Baby Ray! Photographer's Name is Dan Thompson

Dave Raymond, aka Sweet Baby Ray, and Cathy (his wonderful wife) are lifelong Chicagoans with more than 29 passionate years of the barbecue biz behind them. As a youngster growing up on Chicago’s West Side (Best Side) Dave learned early on that life is not always fair or easy—a lesson that helped to define the friend, businessman, and person that he is today. Capitalizing on early success at Mike Royko’s Ribfest in Chicago, 1982, Dave and life-long friend, Mike O’Brien built Sweet Baby Ray’s into what today is the best-selling barbecue sauce in the country. Now a multi-faceted business operation, Sweet Baby Ray’s boasts two restaurants, a full-service Elk Grove Village location run with Mike and a barbecue “joint” in Wood Dale run with nephew, Duce, as well as two premier catering companies. Dave currently resides in Wood Dale, close to relatives and life-long friends, and spends much of his spare time with the barbecue community, still lovin’ the ‘que crew as much as ever.

Here is the interview!

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Grilling with Rich: My first question that I always ask my guests for the Meet the Pros Series, is what made you start to barbecue?

Sweet Baby Ray: Well, I count grilling as barbecue so I will give you that answer first. I grew up in a dysfunctional family and we moved to a lot of different apartments so I did not actually start grilling until I was married for a year. At 25 my wife and I bought our first house in the suburbs of Chicago, and right after that we bought our first Weber Grill.  Like most folks I started with burgers and dogs and worked my way up to chicken, steaks, sausages and chops– and then ribs. Ahhh, I found my calling in life after that.

Grilling with Rich: What do you like most about Barbecue? and Why do you think that a lot of people love to barbecue?

Sweet Baby Ray:
That’s easy– the fact that barbecue is a noun and a verb.  I like cooking barbecue and hanging around barbecue people.  I like talking barbecue and tasting barbecue. My favorite spice is smoke. I love going to other barbecue places and I love the different kinds of barbecue.  Restaurant, ribbers, competition, backyard– I love it all and love to be part of it all.  Barbecue is for me, that’s for sure. It’s fun, it tastes good, a lot of people do it for a special occasion, it’s their tradition, to be around friends and family.


Sweet Baby Rays at the 2011 RibFest. Pictures taken by Lane Teichler

Grilling with Rich: Tell us why you decided to make Sweet Baby Rays BBQ Sauce? and what makes it different from other barbecue sauces?

Sweet Baby Ray: I asked my brother Larry, a chef by training, to create a barbecue sauce for me to cook in Mike Royko’s first ribfest in Chicago in 1982.  Different is not the same as better, so I will answer the question I was asked. Different as in we are the best selling barbecue sauce in the history of retail and the best selling bbq brand in the country. Different as in we started Sweet Baby Ray’s with barely a high school education, $2,000.00 dollars and a dream. We were able to start out as a local favorite and gain retail distribution, then successfully expand to the Midwest and then nationally– that would be different than most other barbecue sauces. If the question is how did we have success I would say some of the reasons would be:

  • Passion for what we do
  • Sweet Baby Ray’s has a thick rich consistency that adheres to food products we call it “clingability”
  • Sweet Baby Ray’s has a high flavor profile and is value added (meaning it does not need to be “doctored up”
  • We learned how to become excellent marketers and broker managers
  • We did not give up
  • We are lucky in lots of ways including timing into the marketplace
  • We had a better tasting product

Grilling with Rich: In your opinion what makes a BBQ sauce successful besides the obvious Awards?

Sweet Baby Ray: Love, passion for what we do, fear of failure, wanting to prove to everyone that we could make it, not quitting when things got tough, more than anything it is a better tasting barbecue sauce that has broad-based national appeal. We learned to be excellent marketers and broker managers.  We reinvested our profits to grow our brand.  We do the right thing for the right reason.  We have great core values and we still live in a country where anyone can do anything and have all the success they want to have. Our faith in God.

Grilling with Rich: What was your greatest accomplishment so far?

Sweet Baby Ray: My friends and not forgetting where I came from

Sweet Baby Ray Ribs at the 2011 RibFest. Pictures taken by Lane Teichler

Grilling with Rich: If you had to choose one grilling tool that every pit master needs to have what would it be and why?

Sweet Baby Ray: My brain has been my greatest tool. So I can make a plan, an agenda and a timeline and figure things out when the plan does not work.

Grilling with Rich: What is the single most important piece of advice that you can give to that inspiring barbecue sauce maker what would it be?

Sweet Baby Ray: I’d let them know that I started Sweet Baby Ray’s with 2 thousand dollars, barely a high school education and a dream and if I can do it you can do it too. Click here to view the power point presentation on what it takes to start your own barbecue sauce company (something I have done at the NBBQA (National BBQ Association Convention) two of the last 3 years)

Grilling with Rich: If you had to give one piece of advice for up and coming people who want to do barbecue competitions what would it be?

Sweet Baby Ray: Read, get advice and practice before you jump in– it costs a lot of time, money and effort.

Grilling with Rich: What is one thing that your fans don’t know about YOU that you would like to share?

Sweet Baby Ray: I am a good friend and I am a barbecue man.

To find out more information about Sweet Baby Ray’s Catering they are on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and also on the web!

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