The state’s rich culinary legacy includes a popular condiment known as “comeback sauce,” supposedly so good you’ll keep coming back for more.
For more than two decades, a unique blend of the sauce has been bringing customers back to Fat Tuesday’s restaurant in Ridgeland, owned by John and Nita Thames. And beginning Sept. 19, football fans can enjoy it at Rebel home games as one of the condiments available at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium concession stands.
The secret family recipe was handed down from John’s mother. Traditionally, the sauce contains ketchup, mayonnaise, Worcestershire, mustard and black pepper, along with spices and other ingredients. It’s used on everything from salads and French fries to fried chicken and onion rings.
Seeing great potential for selling such a popular condiment on a larger scale, the Thames’ son, Wade (BA 03) came up with a plan. He perfected a shelf-stable version of the recipe, labeled it in 12-ounce bottles as Thames Foods Comeback Sauce and founded Thames Foods Inc. He has been successful in placing it in nearly 60 stores across six southeastern states. It is also available online.
“We are marketing this as an all-occasion sauce,” he said. “We want it to be known as the table sauce of the South.”
Comeback sauce is thought to have originated in the early 1930s at the Rotisserie restaurant in Jackson, a Greek eatery owned by Alex Dennery. It began as a cracker-dipping sauce for customers waiting for orders and soon spread to its use as a seafood dip, salad dressing and mayonnaise substitute.
“Comeback sauce is Greek restaurant history in a bottle,” said John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance at UM. “It comes from Greek tradition in Jackson. It’s uniquely Mississippi.”
The same is true of Fat Tuesday’s and Thames Comeback Sauce.
Based on his paternal grandmother’s recipe, Wade’s sauce is a cross between remoulade and Thousand Island dressing with a “unique twist – a perfect blend of flavor and spice that appeals to all ages,” he said.
“My mother made it for shrimp boils,” John Thames said. “We called it the pink sauce.”
Wade Thames’ marketing idea was sparked in 2003 at Fat Tuesday’s, when a customer asked for the sauce in a to-go cup, and Nita obliged as she had been doing for years. Wade said that as the door closed behind the customer, he told his Mom they should start bottling the product to sell.
Wade said she chuckled, then replied, “If you want to, then go ahead.”
His Dad chimed in, saying, “Our plates are too full right now just handling the restaurant,” Wade said.
Undeterred, Wade sprang into action, and started bottling the sauce in Mason jars to sell over the counter. His immediate goal was simply to make a little extra money. Their customers complied, coming back for more and more, and the sauce business was launched. It continues to be prepared at the restaurant, with the family bottling an estimated 150 gallons each month.
“We’ve really had a fun time putting this together,” Wade said. “Mom and dad couldn’t be more proud. They grin from ear to ear every time we get together now as a family to fill the bottles and slap labels on them.”
To learn more about the Thames Foods Comeback Sauce, visit http://thamesfoods.com