Meet the Makers: Mike “Ogre” Weeks and Mike Vagianos, Ogre Sauce
, by Erin Byers Murray
, by Erin Byers Murray
It’s one thing for a childhood nickname to stick past childhood. It’s another to see that nickname looking back at you from the label of your own sauce, sitting on high-end grocery store shelves. For Mike “Ogre” Weeks, who earned the moniker for his spiky hair and stocky frame in his early teens, the nickname, now associated with the creation of Ogre Sauce and its subsequent skyrocket to success, is a source of great pride.
The sauce recipe came to be back in the late 1990s when Weeks was making ribs for his grandfather. There was a particular type of sauce his grandfather craved, based on a recipe that belonged to Weeks’ grandmother. Weeks started playing with the recipe and when he served it to his grandfather, he immediately knew he was onto something. Not only did his grandfather enjoy it, but Weeks himself was hooked. “Immediately, it was like, ‘wow, I really like this,’ and then I tweaked it and made it more of my own,” he says.
When he and some friends attended the US Open in 1999, he whipped up the sauce once more, gaining more fans. More cookouts with friends turned into requests for it, which eventually led Weeks to start preparing large batches out of a local restaurant kitchen. He was selling it by the gallon out of the back of his car for about 13 years before, he says, “we finally decided, let’s actually try to bottle this.”
Enter Mike Vagianos, a friend of Weeks since age five. Vagianos had experience launching a few businesses and came on to help Weeks get the product packaged. It took just four months to nail down a bottler and suss out packaging. Ogre Sauce formally hit shelves in November 2013—the team is celebrating 10 years this fall. “We hear that’s a miracle in the sauce world,” Vagianos says.
It’s been a decade of explosive growth for the Charlotte, North Carolina-based company Ogre Sauce is now distributed widely around the US, including in Los Angles and Portland, Oregon. The team takes pride in producing and packaging the sauce in North Carolina using local ingredients and packaging it in recyclable glass bottles and 100-percent post-use materials.
What’s more, the sauce has become a go-to for families around the country thanks to its versatility. Not just a hot sauce or a barbecue sauce, the original Ogre Sauce is, Weeks says, “a good mix of all the Carolina flavors coming together.” Depending on your preferences—vinegar-based, ketchup-based, or mustard-based—Ogre’s blend of flavors will hit your preferred style. “Whether you’re on the coast, in the Piedmont, in the mountains, or from South Carolina, you might like a different sauce. But this is one of the first sauces that you can pick out what flavor profile you like,” Weeks says. “The rest of the flavors don’t overpower the one that you like.” Plus, it’s not too sweet or too hot—and it goes with everything.
“We’ve heard of people using it for salad dressings, on eggs, as a condiment, for the grill,” Vagianos says. “One guy put it on his Captain Crunch,” Weeks says with a laugh. It’s a nice spice to add to a bloody mary, or to slather on the bacon piece that goes into it. And kids love it too—from hot dogs to French fries, it’s the ultimate condiment. “The first time you taste Ogre wings,” Vagianos says. “You’re never going back.”
The partners, both in their late 40s, see even bigger things in Ogre Sauce’s future. While both maintain day jobs (they both work in IT), this enduring side hustle is nothing but opportunity. “Our plan is to be a national household name,” Vagianos says. Giving a nod to that childhood nickname, he adds, “I think the name of the sauce could do that alone.”