Local BBQ restaurant barely keeping up with demand after its sauce lands spot on Oprah’s list

1,500 jars sold since October


It’s been a busy couple of months for Pat’s Ribs Place, a Waukesha barbecue restaurant that has become widely known for its homemade sauces, thanks to a recent nod from Oprah Winfrey.

Pat’s gourmet barbecue sauce is among 72 products Oprah named to her Favorite Things holiday gift list, which is published annually in O: The Oprah Magazine and sold on Amazon. The 2020 list focuses on Black-owned and Black-led businesses, ranging from Rihanna’s high-profile fashion brand Savage Fenti to mom-and-pop businesses like Pat’s Ribs Place.

The restaurant has increased production of its jarred BBQ sauce from its previous 100 jars a month to 200 jars a week to satisfy demand generated by its feature on Oprah’s list, said co-owner Alisha Hayes, who happens to be Oprah’s niece.

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She and her husband Tydus Hayes opened the restaurant at 151 E. Sunset Drive in 2009, following the death of Alisha’s mom, Patricia “Lee” Lloyd, who inspired the concept and its name. Despite no prior restaurant experience, the husband-and-wife duo successfully launched the business and have gained a loyal following of its Southern-style comfort food. Oprah, who grew up in Milwaukee, has been known to stop by when she is in town.

Pat’s Ribs began retailing its five varieties of BBQ sauces about six years ago. Customers would stop by the restaurant to grab jars of that day’s fresh batch to use at home or give as gifts, said Hayes.

Featured on the list is a two-jar variety pack of Pat’s House Sauce, a smoky and mild red sauce, and Brown Brown Sauce, a sweet and deep-flavored brown sugar and molasses-based sauce. The two 16-ounce jars, priced at $24 dollars, are currently sold out on Amazon but are available on the restaurant’s newly launched online store.

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“This whole experience is special to me because it’s her, of course, and it’s the last print edition (of the magazine), as well as an edition that is featuring Black-owned and Black-led business… what a great thing to be apart of,” Alisha Hayes said.

Orders have come in from across the country, and internationally, as far away as Korea.

The exposure and extra revenue comes at a critical time for Pat’s Ribs, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to decimate the restaurant industry.

The restaurant has kept its dining room closed to the public, while relying solely on carry-out business, which had become a steady source of revenue long before the pandemic. Before expanding in 2018, the dining room was always so packed that a carry-out system was put in place to keep satisfy diner demand, said Hayes.

Even so, the loss of dine-in service has been a strain on the business as it continues to keep several staff members on the payroll. When she found out about Oprah’s list, Hayes had been searching for other ways the business could make money. She was in the process of setting up the online store to sell merchandise, and eventually the sauce, but she knew that would take longer to roll out.

“When I found out, we had a meeting with everyone and we were like, ‘OK people, we’re about to make a lot of sauce,'” she said.

About 600 packs, or 1,200 jars, have been sold through Amazon so far, and an additional 300 packs through the website. The restaurant recently decided to close Tuesdays so it could devote an extra day to sauce production. Hayes has since been able to see a silver lining in the decision to keep the dining room closed.

“If it wasn’t shut down, I’m telling you, we would not have had the space to do all of this,” she said.  

Hayes insists her family ties are not the reason Pat’s Ribs sauces made the list. When the restaurant got the call from Oprah’s staff in early October, Hayes sent her aunt a skeptical text message assuming it was some kind of prank.

“We had to earn our way in just like everyone else,” she said.

Still, the recognition meant a lot to Hayes from a familial standpoint. She said Oprah helped raise her when she was young.

“She’s the reason why I knew throughout my life, being a young woman that things were possible,” said Hayes. “It was possible to be a leader. It was possible to make these kind of moves being a woman, being Black.”

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