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'Labor of love' barbecue sauce benefits inner city youth

Steve and wife Hathy hope to begin distributing the award-winning barbecue sauce on a nationwide basis to assist more youth in inner cities. A guest cabin at the Fosters' summer home is also named in honor of Grandma Foster. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

Thoughts of grandma conjure warm memories of notable kitchen creations, coupled with genial hospitality.

Those traits inspired the name for a barbecue sauce that's now energizing taste buds across Midwest - and earning notable culinary awards.

The inception of Grandma Foster's barbecue sauce began incubating from experiences a half century ago on the western tip of Portage Lake.

Steve Foster began coming to the family cabin in the 1950s. He recalls his grandmother heading into the woods to harvest wild berries. "She was always giving back, baking and giving to others."

Fast forward to 1993 in Omaha, Neb.

Foster grew up in south Omaha, attending a predominantly black junior high school. "I was the first white kid to make the (basketball) team," he recalled of the "uphill climb."

Now, as an adult, he was working with inner city kids - coaching basketball while becoming a friend and mentor. But funding for travel, uniforms, awards and other needs was non-existent.

While in college, he'd developed a barbecue sauce. Family and friends raved about his creation. So in 1996 he decided to begin producing and selling it as a means of fundraising for the basketball team he coached.

He consulted a friend on a name. "Big Red" was the first suggestion from the Cornhusker fan. But Foster nixed that, the realization dawning on him that when he thought of food, he thought of Grandma Foster.

Grandma would be proud.

The barbecue sauce this year earned first place at the prestigious Great American World Championship in Kansas City.

In 2009, the sauce earned the distinction of Best Sauce on the Planet at the by-invitation-only American Royal Championship.

And these followed similar awards in years previous.

The sauce is up against the big guys' - Famous Dave's, Ken Davis and KC Masterpiece among them.

"It's fat free, cholesterol free and gluten free - cuz Grandma loves you."

"Some people just like the sauce," Foster said. "Others like the mission."

He hopes to open a distribution center in Omaha's inner city and bring youth in for packing, shipping and distribution of the product.

"We will employ the unemployable," he said of youth who've had run-ins with the law. Gangs, he said, are a huge presence in Omaha.

Plans call for free daycare. "It would be a business, with corporate goals and benefits.

"Weekends, we'll open it up for ballgames."

His mission is faith based. "That's what changes lives."

Foster takes no income from the initiative and soon hopes to concentrate on the business full time, taking it nationwide. His current occupation is developing school fundraising programs and videos for Readers Digest.

The sauce is sold in 600 grocery stores in six states, including J&B in Park Rapids. The accoutrement enhances Compañeros' quesadillas and Dorset House's barbecued chicken.

He's currently looking for a food broker in northern Minnesota.

Foster's ultimate goal is to build an inner city school that focuses on music, drama and sports. "It's my dream they go on to college and come back to help out.

"It's a labor of love," Foster said of the business. "And we have a lot of people behind us."