Internet sensation Tabitha Brown gave Vista-based barbecue sauce maker and personal chef Ke’Anna Dodds a push in the right direction in 2020, introducing her legions of fans to the vegan barbecue sauce.
That sauce, now under the Rue Kitchen name and called The OG, was touted by Brown a second time more than a year later when Dodds changed the bottle it came in to give her product a more professional look.
The OG is described by Dodds as a classic sweet glaze with a hint of spice “that will brighten anyone’s barbecue” with subtle notes of sweet followed by “smooth but lingering heat… something unforgettable for a barbecue sauce.”
With the help of a $10,000 loan from the Economic Justice Fund, Dodds has since added to her offerings “Over All,” an all-purpose marinade that doubles as a salad dressing, and “Rude Boy,” a spicy and smooth molasses jerk marinade/sauce that she says “will kick your dish up a notch.”
But it is The OG that has the fame – as it has since its humble beginnings beside an Oceanside football field.
Dodds was only 14 years old when she first deliciously wowed North County Pop Warner football fans with that same sauce.
It was to be Dodds’ U.S. Marine father’s and her uncle’s turn at the concession stand to raise money to support her football-playing younger brother and his team and she asked for an opportunity to contribute. Quick to agree, her father and uncle’s traditional Southern BBQ ribs for hungry youth football supporters starred nothing other than young Ke’Anna’s sauce.
“We sold out in just a few hours,” said Dodds, now 32. “After that, I would give it away to family and friends, people at church… And by word of mouth, I saw that people liked it.”
After graduating from Vista High, Dodds went cross-country and earned degrees in Culinary Arts and Food Service Management from Johnson & Wales University. She had several stints as a personal chef back in San Diego County, worked for two years as a supervisor and nutrition education and marketing specialist at the San Marcos Unified School District and was hosting dinner parties at SIP Wine & Beer in Escondido.
It was 2020 and Dodds was also working a private chef for a TV producer in Los Angeles when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. That ended most of the food-serving jobs and left her wondering what was next.
“I needed to make some kind of money,” Dodds recalled. “One day I was like, ‘This could really be a thing,’ and I sent a note and a bottle of sauce to Tabitha Brown. And this is before she made it really big, although people knew her. I wrote, ‘If you don’t like it, fine but if you do, would you put it on your video?’
“Well, I didn’t hear back from her, but one random night my phone started ringing, a lot! I was getting calls from friends who said, ‘Tab posted your sauce and she tagged you, she said where she got it from!’”
Brown, whose own line of products are now being sold at Target, drove so much business to Dodds that she had to enlist the help of another company in northern California to help fill orders to keep up with the demand.
“I wasn’t prepared for that,” Dodds said. “I immediately sold out and had to have a wait list. A couple of weeks later, I needed to get 800 bottles again. I thought, ‘I can’t keep up with this!’ I put the business on pause to find a manufacturer.”
Dodds still sells the sauces online at RueKitchen.com as well as at Oceanside’s weekly farmers market. The products also available online through Amazon and Walmart.
But Dodds is not like Brown, whose social media following has become legendary. “It’s been a struggle,” she said. “I’m really shy. I knew business would be hard. I’m not a salesperson, I don’t want to sell myself on social media, and this is an industry where you have to sell yourself and post something (online).”
Dodds said she’s still trying to figure out if she can continue to be a “one-woman show” or if her dream of being a chef since she was 6 might still be in the (recipe) cards, as long as she can continue to successfully manage her diabetes.
“I’m not opposed to having a partner,” she said. “I’m hoping to get a backer, or someone who wants to become a partner. I can’t keep taking out loans forever, that’s not financially smart. I would love somebody to help me instead of just a pat on the back. Someone who has done this before, someone who would believe in me and want the business to work. That would be ideal.”