In Ville Platte, Jack Miller’s bbq and cocktail sauces are still made the same way, by family.
Even though Jack has passed on, his son Kermit, his wife Sheila and their family cook up batches almost every day.
“There’s three of four things in here, you can smell it! This is regular salt and sugar. And some hot sauce products in here, plus a few others we don’t show.”
His dad started as a restaurateur.
“He had a restaurant cafe. Whatever you want to call it. He opened in 1941 here in Ville Platte. He started the American Inn Restaurant.”
He and a buddy had plans on opening a chain of hamburger joints.
“This was pre-McDonalds. The war broke out and you couldn’t get the meat, so he’d go around to the farmers and get chickens and BBQ chicken.”
Way back you could get a BBQ dinner for a buck and a quarter and Kermit says that included rice, gravy, two vegetables, potato salad lettuce and tomatoes.
Kermit has been on the line for a long time!
“I started here when I was 9.”
He was in the naval reserve as a young man, a Vietnam Veteran. While away, his mom would send him homemade BBQ sauce.
“We had a cookout on the ship, looking out over the coast of Vietnam. Can you imagine that?”
After cooking the sauce, it’s sent to the bottling line where on a regular day, they make about 2,000 bottles.
The bottles are filled, the caps screwed on, labeled, boxed, then shipped. Asked when he was going to let his kids take over, Kermit says they’ve already started.
“Oh, I’m semi-retired. I’ve cut my hours to about 8 a day. I’ve got a camp about 6 miles from here. I’ll go out there and have a little siesta.”
Kermit’s napping spot even has three BBQ pits, as it should, of course.
Asked if he’s ever met a vegetarian, Kermit says their product is not a problem for those who prefer to abstain from meat.
“Our product is no problem for a vegetarian. When they ask, ‘what’s the simplest recipe you’ve got’? Take a slice of bread, put some Jack Millers on it, and that’s it! It’s the after school Special. A lot of young people would say you got me through college. We’d pitch in our money and save our money for the beer!”
And how does it feel when people say that the taste and smell of his sauce takes them to a favorite memory?
“It’s amazing, you know, I walk into a grocery store and I’ll see that product on the shelf I don’t usually think too much about it. But when I go away from here, I look and say, ‘I made that! My whole family made that. Three generations!”