Meet the Maker: Nashville-based Stark Ravin’ Chipotle Brown Sugar Barbecue Sauce for Batch

Meet the Maker: Stark Ravin'

It’s fall, y’all. Time to actually enjoy being outside instead of just enduring the heat. Maybe you’re into tailgating for football, or maybe you enjoy cracking open a cold beer and sitting on the back porch with some tunes. Here is one more reason to be outside this fall—fire up the grill or smoker then slather some Stark Ravin’ barbecue sauce on your meat.

Nashville Grill Daddy Batch Gift Set featuring J.M. Thomason, Lockeland Table, Stark Ravin', Southern City Flavors

The Grill Daddy Batch gift set features Stark Ravin’ Chipotle & Brown Sugar Barbecue Sauce alongside other small-batch, locally made, artisan goods from Nashville, including J.M. Thomason Porterhouse Spice Blend, Lockeland Table Chef Hal’s Chimchurri, and Southern City Flavors Pickled Asparagus.

Steven Russell is the Nashville entrepreneur behind Stark Ravin’, and he has put serious love into developing an excellent Chipotle & Brown Sugar Barbecue Sauce for you to sample over the coming months. Here’s his story (and be sure to read until the end for his recommendations of What to See & Do in Nashville!):

How did Stark Ravin’ get started?

I’ve always been moderately obsessed with barbecue. Everything about it just sucks me right in. When my wife and I moved to Nashville a little over 10 years ago, we were watching a lot of BBQ Pitmasters... the show where teams travel to barbecue competitions all around the country. We started joking about just hanging it all up, and hitting the open road with an RV, a smoker, and the dog. First question was “what would we name our team?” Seemed like everyone had a pig as part of their name or logo, so we wanted to be different. We liked the idea of flavors so good they’d drive you “stark ravin’ mad,” so we ran with it. (We’d also once lived on a street called “Raven Court,” and thought the “Ravin’ Raven” logo was a funny inside joke.) 

Thankfully, common sense prevailed, and we never went the “nomad barbecuers” route. But I played around a lot with different sauce concoctions, trying to find flavors I liked. My poor wife tasted so many near-misses and “almost there’s” that I’m surprised she didn’t pack her bags. But, over time we landed on a couple that really stood out. So, we started sharing them with friends, and got to wondering if other folks might like them, as well. After a lot of digging around, I hooked up with Parker Baggett and his crew at Nashville Kitchen & Cannery, who were able to produce it by hand, in the small batches we were after. They’ve been great.

What did you do before starting Stark Ravin’?

Same thing I’m doing now! I’m a freelance copywriter. I played the ad agency game for 20-odd years, but as I moved up in titles, I also burned out on management. Wanted to get back to actually doing the work—producing something strategic and creative, instead of watching others do it. So not long before we moved to Nashville, I hung out my shingle as a freelancer, and I’ve been doing it ever since—all through my small branding studio, Hatchtree.

What’s it like running a small business?

“Small” is kind of an understatement. Other than Parker and his crew, it’s a real one man show—from the recipes, to the branding, to the packaging, to the deliveries, you name it. It’s been a ton of work, but it’s been fun. That said, I was a bit unprepared for all that goes into running a food business, even at this tiny scale. Just from the standpoint of regulations, insurance, licenses, etc. That sounds ridiculously naive, but it was a real eye-opener. 

Tell us more about your family and growing up.

I was actually born and raised in California. I grew up in what were, at the time, smaller communities—places like Hemet and Bakersfield. It’s a cliché these days, but my wife and I still talk about how, when we were kids, you’d head out on your bike in the morning, and knew to be home when the streetlights kicked on. Talk about a different world. I feel incredibly fortunate to have grown up when I did. It was just a simpler time. At least, it seemed that way to me!

How do you come up with new flavors and recipes? 

It’s all about finding flavors that appeal to me. But, it’s been a real learning curve. The recipe that started it all was our Smoky Onion & Bacon, which I spent forever tinkering with. Real bacon, diced red onion...the works. By the time we went to actually produce it in small batches, it was ludicrously expensive. These days some of the ingredients are more readily available, but at the time, they were harder to find. So, we switched gears to our Chipotle & Brown Sugar… which actually ranked in the top 20 Worldwide at the American Royal “World Series of Barbecue” a couple of years ago. That was a rush.

How did the partnership with Batch come to be?

Batch was actually Stark Ravin’s very first customer. A fact for which we’re enormously grateful! In those early days, I had NO idea what I was doing, and we weren’t producing enough to make sense as part of the subscription baskets. But, once the brick and mortar store opened in the Farmer’s Market, I reached out about securing a little shelf space. You guys took a chance on a couple of cases, and you’ve been one of our top buyers ever since.

What does a fun day in Nashville look like to you? 

When it’s just us, my wife and I like to get out to Cheekwood or Radnor… maybe dinner in 12South. When we first moved here, we got downtown far more often. We’d see a show, try the different restaurants, etc. Even before all the recent COVID-19 restrictions, that had tapered off a bit. But, we had some friends in town a little while back, and had one of those days that reminds you just how unique it is to live here. Brunch at Pinewood Social… a tour of the Ryman (a must when folks visit from out of town)… a little bubble hockey at HQ Beercade… a couple of beers on the Luke Bryan rooftop, looking down on the madness that is Lower Broadway on a sunny weekend afternoon... just an all-around great time.

Anything else you want Nashville and our customers around the country to know?

That nothing will wake up your next cookout like the zippy, satisfying flavor of Stark Ravin’ Chipotle & Brown Sugar… available online through Batch!

Are you ready to try some Nashville-made grilling and barbecue products? Check out Steven Russell’s Chipotle & Brown Sugar Barbecue Sauce in the Grill Daddy Batch gift set and browse our site to see all the Nashville artisan goods we have in the Batch lineup.