A well-known Somerset family has created barbecue sauces and seasoning that have evolved from tantalizing local gatherings to teasing the palates of barbecue aficionados in a several-state region. The products are on the verge of going national.
“It starts with a rub and ends with the sauce” is the motto that sells Johnny B’s Sweet Wet Sauce, Johnny B’s Spicy Wet Sauce and Johnny B’s Bogletown Mud, a dry rub all-purpose seasoning.
The Johnny in Johnny’s sauces is John L. Perkins, retired Somerset postmaster better known as “Johnny B.” The “L” in John L. Perkins is initial for Livingston, “ ... but my daddy was Johnny B. Perkins and everybody calls me “Johnny B” because they thought I was Johnny B. Junior,” he laughed.
The Perkins name is synonymous with Somerset High School Briar Jumper football. Johnny B starred on the SHS gridiron under coach Jim Williams and coach Jerry Jones from 1964 to 1967 and son John B., now vice president and co-owner of Johnny B’s BBQ and Grill Inc., helped take the Jumpers to the state finals under coach John Cain during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Then there are Nellie, owner/president of the BBQ sauce company and Johnny B’s wife; and daughters Kathy, Beverly and Stacy. Nellie is the daughter of the late Rev. W. R. Munday, legendary and beloved Somerset minister who was on a first-name basis with political luminaries across the state and nation.
The sauces are the glue that holds the family together. It all started back during the 1970s when Johnny B’s barbecue was a staple during fellowship gatherings at Davis Chapel AME Church. Later, Johnny B’s barbecue sandwich stand was a lunchbox at festivities all across the area. Gov. Ernie Fletcher was one of many who made his way to Johnny B’s barbecue stand.
The word spread, mostly by word of mouth, about the deliciousness of Johnny B’s barbecue sauces, recipes for which were developed in Johnny B’s and Nellie’s kitchen at 201 Pulaski Street.
“We experimented over a period of six to eight months until we got it just right,” recalled Johnny B. The sauces and seasoning are sold locally at Food Fair and Haney’s Appledale Farm, among other places.
“I truly feel our Wet Sauces and Dry Rub are Somerset’s best kept secret, said John B. Perkins who currently lives in a suburb of Chicago. “Our goal, of course, is national distribution on major grocery shelves of Kroger, Walmart, Houchens, etc., but we really want to thank local businesses like Food Fair and Commercial Printing for helping us get off the ground.”
Demand for Johnny B’s barbecue sauces is such that it cannot be produced in Johnny B’s and Nellie’s kitchen. Bloemer Food Sales Company Inc., Louisville, now bottles the sauces under labels made by Commercial Printing in Somerset. There are retail outlets for the sauces and dry rub seasoning in Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi and Missouri, and the sauces are a Kentucky Proud product.
For a short time after Johnny B retired from the Postal Service, he and his family operated a restaurant in the building now occupied by Amon’s Bakery, South U.S. 27.
“For us it was a big social event, a gathering place. The community really got behind us,” said Johnny B. The family continued a catering business while trying to operate the restaurant.
“I had no concept about what a family owned business is,” Johnny B laughed. Eventually, long hours took its toll and the family decided to close the restaurant.
Already available online, Johnny B’s barbecue sauces are being moved toward national distribution. “We have a lot of repeat customers,” Johnny B said.
Tastes of Johnny B’s barbecue sauces are tantalizing. Folks always want a second helping.