How Getting ‘Sauced’ Got Me Over It.
By Brendon O’Neill.
I’m a big fan of sad, sappy pop songs that are generally decades old.
I love a variety of music, but there’s a part of me that holds dear — and keeps secret — a list of songs I depend on when I’m depressed — or just in the mood to feel that way. You know, when you want to feel awful, but you really don’t, and you don’t care.
You press Play on your sorry sappy playlist and wallow while staring into space, while watching whatever dramatic movie is playing out in your head. It’s nothing like reality, but it’s so real. Then something real snaps you out of your daze. Usually a utility bill or a meaningless text from a friend, or a clock that’s reminding you daydream time is over.
I never thought I’d be a rambling, writing, single father, still wondering what the hell I was gonna do with my life — at 38 years old. Almost ten years ago, I was living in Chicago, making an odd independent film that never made a buck.
From there, I went to LA, and realized I wasn’t cut out for work in the film industry. I’m a Midwesterner at heart. I like seasons that change. I like grilling in my backyard on snowy evenings and the smell of burning leaves in the Fall.
I lived like a gypsy throughout my twenties and early thirties: Albuquerque, Orlando, Gainesville, Lawrence (KS), Chicago, Los Angeles, and Kansas City. But everywhere I lived, my mom would mail me my favorite BBQ sauces so I could have some feeling of home.
In December 2008, on my second night back in Kansas City from LA, I met the future mother of my daughter. We started dating, and things moved quickly — you know the story. We fell in love within a month, started living together by Month Two. And by Month Three, we discovered she was pregnant. She gave birth to Oona 15 months later. And three years later, we decided to call it quits.
On paper, it sounds like a tragedy. But the beautiful thing about the situation is that Oona’s mom and I remain great friends, we live five blocks away from each other, and we each get Oona every other day and weekend. Even though our breakup wasn’t completely perfect or easy, we always put our daughter first, and continue to refer to ourselves as a family.
When things get stressful with kids or loved ones, I think it’s easy to reflect back with nostalgia about times when life wasn’t so hurried. When I think back on my college days and single life before my daughter, it’s hard to believe I was ever stressed.
It’s common for couples who have kids to dream of time alone to pursue their own interests and hobbies. In my relationship with Oona’s mom, I definitely fell into that category. The introvert/writer part of me was dying for attention. That part of me felt incomplete.
I needed a creative project, or some kind of outlet to make me feel like an individual, not just a dad or someone’s boyfriend.
After my ex and I separated and started splitting time with Oona, I had myself all to myself again, at least half of the time. I knew that I needed to fill that time with a new project. The problem was, I had no clue what to pursue.
I thought back on all the creative projects I pursued before, and tried to figure out why they failed. Fail is a strong word. I’d like to make myself feel better and say there is no such thing as failure, just experiences. But when you don’t reach an audience, or find a publisher for your novel, or distributor for your film, it sure doesn’t feel like you won anything.
This time, I wanted to do something creative, fun, and practical. I wanted to create a product — an actual thing that people could use and enjoy. And I wanted to create a brand that people would think is cool.
… to a couple years ago when I started having digestive health problems. I’ll spare you the details, but I realized I had to start eating gluten-free to feel better. Once I realized gluten was making me sick, I started looking for beers, BBQ sauces, and other foods I could still enjoy.
To make my lifestyle change fun, I started a website called Gluten-free for Men to blog about brands and other things that caught my eye.
Once I started paying more attention to everything that was in my food, I quickly realized that a lot of BBQ sauces are made with a ton of unnatural crap. I’m no puritan, but I got tired of reading ingredients I can’t pronounce.
BBQ sauce stuck out to me in particular because it’s always been my favorite type of food. After all, I’m the guy who will dig a path to his grill in 10 inches of snow.
So, in the single part of my time, I started writing BBQ sauce recipes with my old friend, Jason. I hope everyone has that old friend who hangs around no matter where you are in life. For me, that’s him. Whether we lived 5 or 500 miles apart, he’s been the one constant friend in my life since I was 12.
Like best friends would do, Jason was there to help encourage me during the days when I missed having Oona at my house. When I wasn’t spending time with her, I escaped into cooking lots and lots of BBQ and writing tons of sauce recipes.
It became an obsession: notebooks were filled with recipes, gallons of sauce were dumped because it tasted awful (you live and you learn, right?) and it was exhausting. But the more I tasted what I didn’t want to taste, the more I formed an idea of what I did want to taste. Ya feel me?
I’m sure there’s a cliché in there — something about ‘you don’t know what you like until you know what you don’t’. But it’s so true.
Once we established the balance of the tomato, vinegar, molasses and sugar, we focused on creating the perfect spice blend. Perfect according to our tastes. But that’s what made it personally rewarding.
After several months, we wrote what we believe is the perfect Kansas City style BBQ sauce recipe. It’s a bold statement to make, especially since we’re surrounded by BBQ legends, such as Ollie Gates and Arthur Bryant. So we took our sauce recipe to a local manufacturer and had a test batch made.
We thought it tasted perfect. Plus, when we got the nutrition info back, we realized how much healthier our sauce is compared to almost every other brand on the market.
As I write this, it’s been exactly one year since Oona’s mom and I broke up and half my life-schedule cleared. And I feel like I’m living a well-rounded life for the first time since I was a child, with the freedom to get lost in my imagination.
Although I still work a 9-5 career in advertising, I’m excited about the prospects of my BBQ sauce company. Sure, it’s not a best-selling novel or award-winning indie movie, but it’s still satisfying because I love it, it makes me happy, and other people enjoy it too.
More than anything, I want to set an example to Oona that you have to live your own life in the fullest way that you can. And if you can produce something out of your passions that make other people happy, then maybe you’re on to something.
I truly believe small businesses can compete with large corporations through grassroots efforts. Most weekends, we’re busy sampling our sauce at Kansas City grocery stores, trying to get the word out.
Part of me is really afraid that it won’t get funded. But then I think about all those boxes of unpublished writing in my basement, and I think why not? What the hell do I have to lose?
Whenever I can’t decide if I should do something, I picture myself as an 80-year-old man, and I try to decide if I would regret not doing that thing when I’m that age. That fear of regret is what drives me to live each day to its fullest.
I think having a child and seeing her grow so quickly reminds me of how fast it goes. So whether we fund our Kickstarter project or not, we will continue pursuing our goal of making the business successful.
But in the end, if this doesn’t work, it’ll be on to something else. I just hope I can inspire my daughter to live her life pursuing things that spark her curiosity and make her thankful for the life she’s living.
Brendon O’Neill works as a content strategist for a large education advertising agency in the Kansas CIty area. He graduated from Columbia College of Chicago with a degree in screenwriting. In 2013, he founded Gluten-free for Men, an all-natural BBQ products company that recently launched its first sauce in the Kansas City market. Brendon enjoys women who curse, old movies, classic books, vodka and pinball. While some would prefer to be the fifth Beatle, he’d rather be the third Coen brother. You can contact Brendon via Facebook or Twitter. The Kickstarter campaign for ‘Gluten-free for Men′ can be found here.