MINOOKA – Randy Buck and Kelly Strache never left the farmer’s market without first performing a certain routine.
“He’d twirl me around and we’d dance,” Kelly said. “It was his ‘good luck’ thing.”
But when Kelly heads out to the Kankakee Farmers Market this month, she’ll leave without the lucky dance.
Randy died suddenly of a massive stroke Jan. 13 at age 57, so Kelly plans to sell the remainder of his immensely popular homemade “Gourmet on the Go” barbecue sauce at the market and through email requests.
“He was lucky enough that he could do that,” Kelly said. “He had the opportunity to live his dream. ... To make his business what it could be.”
Kelly said Randy started making sauces when he worked in his parents’ former restaurant in Rochelle, where Randy had grown up.
During that time, Randy developed three varieties that he gave as gifts and occasionally sold at farmer’s markets: Chicago blues, sweet Hawaiian pineapple and sweet and smoky Mali onion, Kelly said.
Around 2000, Randy focused less on the restaurant and more on cooking for private events.
“He kind of specialized in canoe trips and barbecues,” Kelly said, “The kind of catering if you were having a graduation party and wanted someone to barbecue on site, that kind of thing.”
But when Randy moved to Minooka in 2006 to be closer to Kelly, that’s when Randy really hit the sauce-making. He stepped up his experiments with flavors and expanded the number of varieties he made and the number of markets he frequented.
“He had about 75 [varieties] that had gone through the experimenting process and had labels,” Kelly said.
Kelly said Randy’s favorite markets were in Morris, Frankfort, Oswego, Kankakee and Wilmington. The couple also participated in several local craft fairs, such as Christmas Crossroads in Lockport, Kelly said.
“He also liked hiring local youth to help at the markets and teach them about work ethic and selling with passion,” Kelly said in an email.
One flavor, peanut butter and jelly chipotle, was as perfect for dipping onion rings as it was for adding to burgers, Kelly said.
“A lot of places put peanut butter on their burgers. It sticks to the food really well,” Kelly said. “This is peanut butter with a lot more flavor.”
Randy also had an affectionate pet name for his customers: Pepper Heads. Kelly said Randy loved listening to their ideas and sharing recipe ideas.
“Everybody loved Randy,” Kelly said. “He really connected with people.”
Randy’s sauce-making spilled over into rub-making, and Kelly will sell the rest of those, too. At last glance, Kelly said remaining flavors included mesquite, Jamaican and salt-free.
Randy developed the salt-free rubs for his customers on salt-free diets, even though proper rubs require salt to properly flavor and tenderize meat, she said.
“[Otherwise] it’s just seasoning, not a real rub,” Kelly said.
Kelly said many people don’t understand the amount of time that goes into creating a product for farmer’s markets. For Randy, it was more than a full-time occupation.
“We rented a commercial kitchen,” Kelly sad. “So he made sauces there five days a week and sold them for two days, so he worked seven days a week. But if it’s your passion, it’s not like working at all.”
When Randy did take time off, he rode his motorcycle with his friends, which he called, “the best therapy around,” Kelly said in an email. Randy also loved taking his two dogs to romp at a dog park.
“Jenny and Jasper – two little Jack Russells,” Jenny said. “They were his pride and joy. They kept him grounded. He couldn’t get too lost in making his sauces because he knew had to come home and take care of them.”
In fact, Randy didn’t need much to make him happy.
“Randy always said life was about good music, good barbecue sauce and the love of a good woman,” Kelly said.
Once Randy’s stock is sold, that’s it, Kelly said, as Randy’s recipes died with him. The only item she will keep producing is coffee rub, since it’s her formula.
Randy wasn’t a fan of this rub at first, which also includes Mexican dark chocolate, Kelly said, until celebrity chefs popularized them. That’s when Randy said to her, “Tell me more about this coffee rub.”
Kelly teased him right back.
“I said, ‘You won’t believe me, but you’ll believe Bobby Flay,’ ” Kelly said. “Then we made it and gave it to our best customers for feedback. And then we tweaked it.”
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