Washington, D.C., is known for its passionate politics and monuments to past presidents and other famous historical figures. But many Black residents recognize D.C. by the savory flavor of mumbo sauce. The unique sauce, which tastes like a cross between barbecue and sweet-and-sour sauce, skips ingredients like politics and monuments and leaves a lasting impression of those who eat it.
So when Arsha Jones and husband Charles relocated further out into the Maryland suburbs after having children, she found herself missing the taste of mumbo sauce.
“It was one of those things that was very true to the community,” Arsha Jones said. “It’s one of those hidden staples in the community that everyone knows about, but nobody knows about.”
Wanting her kids to experience one of the central aspects of Black D.C. culture, she decided to create some for her family in 2011.
“Since my kids kinda don’t have that history of growing up in the city, I wanted to give them a taste of what I remember was home,” Jones said. “I based my recipe on the different flavors from around the city.”
After creating the recipe, Jones served the sauce to her family every Friday night. But the thought of turning it into a business hadn’t yet crossed her mind until she wondered if there were other people like her who moved away from the D.C. area and missed the famous condiment.
“People always said when I was little that someone should bottle this up, and I said I’m just going to do it,” Jones said.
After identifying a retailer that sold bottles wholesale and creating a website, the Joneses began selling mumbo sauce to a small number of loyal customers in May of 2011. They named the business Capital City Mumbo Sauce, after their beloved city.
Now, seven years later, the company has expanded greatly, with sales nearing seven figures. The couple has been able to move the company away from their kitchen and into a warehouse that houses most of their products. They also were able to hire both full-time and part-time employees. They are even tossing around the idea of owning a store that will sell items other than mumbo sauce.
They’re currently in the process of creating a seasoned flour, meant to be used on fried foods, and an all-purpose seasoning as an alternative to the flour.
“We’re definitely looking at complimentary products as well as some seasonal mumbo sauce flavors,” Jones said. “We have a large base that can accommodate more products than we [currently] have.”
But her main goal for the company is to saturate their local market and eventually spread across the East coast.
“The great thing about mumbo sauce, and Washington, D.C., is there is no one food that you associate with Washington, D.C.,” Jones said. “So, we have a prime opportunity to put our product in the position where we are the product of D.C.”
Mumbo sauce can be purchased at the Capital City website.