The Secret Behind Zee’s
article by Michael DeVault | photography by Joli Livaudais
Keith Odom was just a kid when he made a discovery in his family’s kitchen. Or, rather, when he discovered there was something missing. There were steak sauces, hamburger sauces and sauces for spaghetti. He knew about tartar sauce for fish and cocktail sauce for shrimp. But still, something was missing.
He laughs today about this revelation all those years back. “I was a sauce kind of kid growing up,” he says, though he stops short of calling himself a connoisseur. “I don’t know a whole lot about all the various sauces, but I did know there was nothing that worked for sausage.”
So he set about experimenting at the kitchen table. The results of that experimentation ended at age 14, when he whipped up a little bit of magic in a cup, “specifically for the family.” That sauce was perfect for sausage and, for years, that’s exactly what he used it for. “I never really shared it with anyone, until about six years ago.”
Keith and his wife, Alicia, had friends over for dinner. It was steak night, so naturally they tossed a few smoked sausages on the grill to accompany the steaks. Keith whipped up a batch of his sauce, and then their friends tried it. “Once they tasted it, they said, ‘This stuff needs to be on the shelf,'” Keith recalls. “I’d never really thought about it before that.”
But, with the seed planted, Keith and Alicia began to explore ways to get their sauce out for the customer. “We perfected the recipe for bottling purposes, and then never looked back,” Keith says. That was six years ago. Today, Zee’s Secret Sausage Sauce is one of the most popular local products on the market.
So far, the response has been astonishing. Nine out of ten customers find it “overwhelmingly good,” says Keith. Those customers also have a word they use to describe Zee’s: indescribable.
“It’s closely related to sauces like Heinz 57, but it’s a whole different animal. It’s…indescribable,” he says with a laugh. “And that’s what intrigues people.” Zee’s Secret Sausage Sauce is tangy and tart, with a sweet touch that doesn’t overwhelm even the most delicate smoked sausage flavors. Keith reveals “there’s a hint of mustard,” but beyond that, he’s not revealing much about the secret sauce.
Keith and Alicia have expanded steadily, and now the operation supplies grocery chains in four states. Also, the sauces are available online at SecretSausageSauce.com and shipped throughout the nation. So far, Zee’s has shipped to 28 states. Their website and Facebook page, (Zees Sauce on Facebook), are loaded with recipes featuring Zee’s Secret Sausage Sauce, and those recipes aren’t just about sausage, either. Unique recipes abound. Take for instance Zee’s Bacon Wrapped Tamales.
Take a selection of tamales, homemade or canned, and slice into 1.5-2″ slices. Brush liberally with Zee’s Secret Sausage Sauce and wrap with half a slice of bacon. Bake in an oven until bacon is crispy. Serve on a chip-and-dip platter with your choice of homemade queso or Rotel Dip. Zee’s Bacon Wrapped Tamales make a great appetizer for the big game.
Another favorite use for Zee’s among fans–Odom refers to Zee’s customers as fans–is as the perfect, spicy dip for fresh fried Alligator Strips. Zee’s also adds a zesty kick to hamburgers and hotdogs.
In spite of Zee’s popularity, Keith says he and Alicia are committed to remaining a local company. It’s still bottled in West Monroe, distributed from West Monroe, and that’s not going to change. “It’s as local as local can get,” Keith says. He’s proud of their roots in the community, even if they are pioneers. “It’s America’s First Sausage Sauce,” he says.