'Sweet Baby' Raymond would rather help inner city kids
Dave Raymond of Wood Dale is best known for his role as co-creator of Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce.
While the sauce line was sold a while ago, he is now focusing on a corporation that includes restaurants in Elk Grove Village and Wood Dale, as well as Sweet Baby Ray's Catering Co., True Cuisine Catering, both in Wood Dale, and Meetinghouse Event Design & Production in Elmhurst. He has about 60 full-time and 80 part-time workers.
At 62, Raymond already has started to hand down the businesses to his nephew, Larry "Duce" Raymond. Dave has been spending more time helping young people in the inner city -- because he used to be one of them.
"There's nothing as close to being fulfilled as to offer a little bit of hope to people who have little hope," Raymond said.
Raymond was born and raised in Chicago and nicknamed Sweet Baby Ray while playing basketball because he was smaller than others on the team. It also distinguished him from an older brother, Larry, who also played basketball. He said he enjoyed his childhood on the West Side and attended Lane Tech High School.
By the 1980s, he worked for a company that fulfilled prescriptions for nursing homes. Raymond often gave bottles of his family sauce as gifts to colleagues and friends. The sauce was then entered in the Mike Royko Ribfest and won second place among 700 competitors. That was incentive enough and the company was started in 1985.
"When people kept coming back for more, I knew I had something," he said.
He later partnered with a friend, Mike O'Brien, and they moved the sauce business ahead.
After 18 years, the sauce was earning about $35 million a year in sales and they decided to sell it. Dave still gets about 100 cases of the sauce for free each year and can still use the Sweet Baby Ray name, he said.
"There was a lot of competition with Kraft and Clorox had KC Masterpiece, and felt there was too much competition and couldn't catch up with that," Raymond said.
That's when Raymond focused on other businesses he had developed for catering and his recent acquisition of an event planning firm.
But what has captured more of his attention in recent years, has been helping some inner city kids, he said.
When a pastor from North Lawndale contacted him in 2008 to help build a kitchen, he agreed. It would help teach kids some cooking and other skills. He got a kitchen designer to evaluate their needs and brought in some equipment. Then as president of the Wood Dale-based Illinois BBQ Alliance, Raymond helped to lead a fundraiser for a smoker for those kids.
"They need to finish the rest of the kitchen and we'll bring in the smoker," he said.
He's also been active on other projects, including last week's live Facebook event and tour of barbecue spots with friends and colleagues in the industry. They included Dave Anderson of Famous Dave's restaurants, TV personality, author and "Chopped" judge, Ray "Dr. BBQ" Lampe; author Gary "Low & Slow" Wiviott, and barbecue authority and instructor at Le Cordon Bleu and Cornell University Meathead Goldwyn.
Still, Raymond attributes much of his success to God and wants to continue to give back to the community.
"It's hard to put into words how challenging things can be in the city sometimes," Raymond said. "But by the end of the day, it's sometimes hard to have faith when things are not going your way. Just think how hard it would be without faith."
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