He founded the “Sauce boss” business from scratch

It was the summer of 1989, and Sean O’Rourke finally invented the first iteration of what would eventually become Surfer Slappin! barbecue sauce for buffalo wing competition. He didn’t win the competition, but O’Rourke found a recipe he kept in his toolbox, something to do for the fourth meeting in July.

In 2018, O’Rourke’s son took over the ownership of The Dive in Carolina Beach, which had wings. He asked his son if he could add his signature sauce to The Dive’s selections, prepared a batch in the restaurant kitchen, and added it to the menu.

Customers soon began ordering sauces from other products, such as shrimp and chicken wrappers. They asked if they could buy containers to take home, and then O’Rourke said “the light bulb went off.”

He then joins an extended O’Rourke family member, Brian Mack (his wife’s sister is O’Rourke’s daughter), to complete Sea Monster Sauces. He knew Mack was the right match after watching the competition all day drinking, including “garage games,” a detailed scoring system. “It’s like a decathlon,” O’Rourke said. “The way he handled this and how professional and rigorous he was, it made me think that if I could get a partner he was the same person I wanted.”

Mack said he had no real business background, but that he took the company to heart. “We didn’t know what we were doing,” Mack said. “It was never my dream to become a sauce head.”

Both began bottling in the commercial production kitchen of the Veggie Wagon in Carolina Beach, and the business helped them secure federal authorization and nutritional values. Seeing Veggie Wagon’s rich inventory of original goods, the team quickly overtook the local cuisine. Originally packaged in a modest 5-ounce container, the bottles now feature a Loch Ness creature as the brand’s pet.

By the fall of 2019, the group had found a bottling facility in Tar Heel, North Carolina, and after adapting the recipe for mass production several times, nailed a formula that is now being prepared in batches of 300 liters.

Slappin would surf! The barbecue sauce, the Sea Monster’s most iconic, is “sweet and sour heat,” in that order. “It’s in that layer exactly,” Mack said. “It gives you a great sweetness first, then the sour comes from the base of the vinegar and orange juice. And then we call it hot, ‘hot slap’ because it gives you a little red pepper and a slap with Tabasco sauce. ”

The couple’s second sauce, Danger Berry Hot Sauce, is a mix of habanero strawberry. Asked what his favorite was, Mack said, “I think it would be like asking what your favorite child is,” before inadvertently choosing Danger Berry, “because I might be a little weirder with that.”

It took the team two years to nail Danger Berry. “We certainly don’t rush any product just because we have the product,” he said. A new flavor, Lift Up, a hot sauce collaboration with local Signal Fire, will be released this summer.

Over the years, O’Rourke has managed to position itself at Sea Monster in 160 retail stores, including the first international place on the shelves of a store in Dublin, Ireland. About 60% of sales are made at local businesses in Wilmington, 20% through retailers and pop-up markets and the remaining 20% ​​through online wholesale partners. While visiting the store, O’Rourke said it has an 80% to 90% success rate for carrying the product. Once on the shelves, they help customers make sure they supply stores. “We’ve probably got a 90% reorganization rate right now for our retail customers because they love customers and always demand more,” Mack said.

In early June, Mack said the company had its 20,000. that he had sold the bottle. “I’m not sure if it’s a great milestone, but we were very pleased,” he said. Mack still works full-time as a property manager, and O’Rourke does several full-time concerts after burning out of his cooking career. Both would like to be fully committed to the Sea Monster, and O’Rourk said he feels they are close to being ready. “It’s definitely been a job of love,” she said. “It’s not yet time to pay the bills, but hopefully we’re on the verge of taking that turn.”


Sea Monster Sauces
Wilmington, NC

Number of employees: 2

Year of creation: 2018

Senior local officials: Co-owners Brian Mack and Sean O’Rourke

Company description: Sea Monster Sauces is a sauce manufacturer that started in Wilmington, first producing its signature Surfer Slappin! hot sauce O’Rourke crafted in 1989 for a chicken wing contest based on a 33-year-old family recipe. The company is on the verge of offering three different flavors, selling two in more than 160 locations.

Homemade products: Slappin would surf! Barbecue sauce and Danger Berry hot sauce were bottled and produced using the Veggie Wagon facility. In 2019, production surpassed the available manufacturing space on the Veggie Wagon and the owners began using a bottling facility in Tar Heel, North Carolina.

Product distribution: Mack: “Wilmington, North Carolina, is by far our largest market in terms of retailers. We probably have other retailers in 20 of the 50 states.”

What’s next? Mack: “We recently collaborated with Signal Fire on a new hot sauce. They love Surfer Slappin! sauce, and they wanted to join us, so we hope to release a hot Lift Up sauce in mid-summer in partnership with them. This is our first serious partnership. ”

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Check out our manufacturing news in the Pender County special section of the Greater Wilmington Business Journal on June 17:

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