If there is anything better than Husker football, tailgating and wings on a Saturday afternoon in Lincoln, Nebraska I haven’t found it yet. Firefighting is my career, college football is my passion, tailgating is my hobby and Sparky’s is my talent.
I’ve been a firefighter in Grand Island, Nebraska since October of 1988 and have held the rank of captain since April of 2002. “Sparky” is actually my nickname. It came from an incident around 1993 when I was accidentally defibrillated on a medical call while assisting with CPR.
For future reference, when a Paramedic says “CLEAR,” please get out of the way. If not, you will pay the consequences of having 360 Joules race through your veins.
Upon returning to the fire station after that call my captain asked me, “How ya doing Sparky?” I responded, “Good for right now, but we’re going to do some paperwork as this might leave a mark.”
Like I stated, I love to tailgate at Husker games. My wife Fae and I started tailgating in the fall of 2001. In the fall of 2002 I got tired of basic burgers and brats. Everyone was serving typical picnic food back then. I decided to start making Buffalo wings. They were cheap and I had a cooking background as a former employee and kitchen manager at the Village Inn in Grand Island.
I decided to start making wings with my own special wing sauce. Fast forward to 2010. That fall we gave away over 160 dozen wings at six Husker home games. That’s when Fae suggested that we go into business, as everyone loved our product. She suggested we, “Just dabble in it and see what happens.” I told her that the people loved our wings and beer because they were free. She told me that they loved our wings and hated my beer because I was cheap and always brought Old Milwaukee Light. She might have a point there.
I started making “Sparky’s Wing Sauce” on my kitchen stove and delivered samples to local restaurants and grocery stores in eight ounce jelly jars. So I asked my wife “I need a manufacturer, how do we do this?”
“Ask Jim Bryant,” she said. Jim has been a great friend since the late 70s. We worked at Village Inn together in the late 70s and early 80s. Now he is the Vice President of Whiskey Creek Corp. He directed me to their co-packer (Triple K Manufacturing in Iowa). He stated that they did a great job with all of their sauces. After talking with Brian Maxine at Triple K, I asked him about a label designer. Maxine directed me to Gary Anderson at Anderson Label Group in Des Moines. I still needed a label designer. Gary directed me to Melody Hansen at Sublime Artistry. At this time I’m thinking, “Holy cow. This is a huge process. Hope this ends well.”
Everything started to fall into place at that point. It takes a lot of determination and drive. We received our first sauce shipment in March 2011. To date, Sparky’s is now available in over 600 supermarkets and restaurants in over 30 states.
In the spring of 2015 I entered “Sparky’s Original Wing Sauce” in the “World Hot Sauce Awards” in Louisiana at the World Hot Sauce Festival. Guess what? We won. Who would have thought that a fire captain in Grand Island would develop a world champion wing sauce? Not me. This spring, we developed a second sauce called “Sparky’s Fire” and we’re looking forward to it being on many tailgate party favorites this Husker football season.