Seasoned for Success: Sauce Boss Aubrey Lenyard’s small-batch artisan barbecue sauce AubSauce overcame the pandemic to thrive in DeKalb County
As a member of the team that helps train would-be entrepreneurs at Georgia Tech, Aubrey Lenyard knew he also had the entrepreneurial bug. So, in 2018 he began strategizing how he could achieve his own taste of success.
From the tidy 1950s-era ranch house he recently purchased on Columbia Drive in Decatur, Lenyard, 51, reflected on the career path that led him to launch an up-and-coming gourmet barbecue sauce business.
A Delicious Idea
“I work for Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center, a startup incubator, so I’m surrounded by creative people every day,” said Lenyard. “I knew I wanted to go into business, but I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do.”
The one thing he was determined to do was stay in DeKalb County, where he’s lived for more than three decades.
“I love DeKalb County,” he said. “So much of my business is here, and it’s so convenient to everything.”
Putting his entrepreneurial training to good use, Lenyard – whose training and background is in design, including several years crafting wedding and evening gowns – began considering what sort of venture would fit his skills and interests.
After consulting with friends and colleagues, Lenyard cooked up a plan.
A native of Birmingham, Alabama, who moved to Georgia 32 years ago, Lenyard grew up on regional specialties like barbecue prepared by his grandmother.
“I’m not a cook,” Lenyard said with a laugh, “my brother is the cook. But I did learn to cook too because I’m a big boy and I love to eat. So in 2018 I started to sample barbecue sauces – we call it customer discovery – to decide whether a particular product is viable and whether people will pay for it,” he said.
After experimenting with several variations and calling in friends and family for taste testing, Lenyard came up with a peach-based, savory mixture with enough heat to satisfy a barbecue aficionado’s palate offset with a hint of cinnamon.
“My first sauce was the Spicy Peach,” he said. “After that we did Fiery Pineapple Mango. Now have Strawberry Balsamic Rosemary and our Original Barbecue Sauce.”
Lenyard said he was pleased to find a ready market in DeKalb County even before the first bottle of AubSauce was ever filled. “There’s a cute little market in Decatur, Savi Provisions, and they let me do tastings,” he said.
Buoyed by the public’s reception Lenyard decided his sauces were good enough to market, and he launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to help get his company off the ground.
“My Kickstarter goal was just to raise $5,000 to fund that first production,” Lenyard said. “We did that in one day! We ended up raising $10,000, so we were able to do a full run with that. We – and by ‘we’ I mean ‘me’ – made our first batch in 2018. We had to send bottles out to all our Kickstarter supporters, and we had to have a stock for Savi Provisions and for online sales.” A 12-ounce bottle of AubSauce costs $14.
AubSauce’s reputation picked up with tastings and sales at other markets and specialty shops and favorable foodie magazine and website reviews. In 2019, AubSauce won the Flavor of Georgia’s People’s Choice Award, and in 2020 the Strawberry Balsamic and Rosemary blend won the Best Barbecue Sauce Award.
“We got into Williams Sonoma on Ponce de Leon and sold out the first day we did a sampling,” Lenyard said. “We did about $20,000 in business our first year.”
The Pandemic Pause
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic and his business – like so many others – was shocked by supply chain and manufacturing woes. “COVID hit us really hard,” he said. “I was a new business owner having to navigate through suppliers and bottlers, and my customers were having trouble getting things like flour and toilet paper on their shelves. They definitely weren’t interested in gourmet BBQ sauce.”
Lenyard’s co-packager, who bottled and labeled the sauce, went out of business. He ultimately found a replacement, “but we’re just getting back into the store business,” he said.
A typical batch of AubSauce is usually 30 to 40 gallons prepared and bottled under Lenyard’s supervision at Jake’s Produce & Cannery in Ellijay.
“And of course we still do the online sales through our website,” said Lenyard, who has partnered with another DeKalb-based company, Sapna Foods in Tucker, to work up a line of AubSauce rubs and spices.
While his work at Georgia Tech is still Lenyard’s primary gig, he said he’d love to see his business grow to the point where larger stores and groceries are stocking his sauces.
For now, he’s sticking with his four current flavors, which he said complement a variety of foods as well as barbecue.
“Fruit-based sauces pair well with different meats,” he said. The Spicy Peach is great with pork, of course, while the Fiery Pineapple Mango works well with seafood. The Strawberry Balsamic Rosemary is really good with something like salmon, and I know a young lady who loves that sauce on salads.”
In addition to the sauces available on the AubSauce website, Lenyard has designed a set of dishes including an AubSauce serving platter, individual dipping bowls and a basting brush. There are also “It’s Aubsome” aprons and tees available.
For more information and to attend one of the frequent tastings at Swoozie’s, go to AubSauce.com.
If you have a new business idea for DeKalb County, we’re here to help. Email us at Decide DeKalb. We’d love to hear from you and help you on your entrepreneurial journey.