Why This Entrepreneur Launched a Boozy Barbecue Sauce Business During the Pandemic

Without events to keep his AV company busy during lockdowns, Christian Landry turned to the kitchen
Christian Landry (photography: Chris Donovan)

Many entrepreneurs will tell you that what they’re doing now is not what they initially set out to do. Making major professional changes—even mid- to late-career—can often lead to more fulfilling and successful outcomes. That’s what our series The Pivot is all about. Each month, we speak to founders, business leaders and entrepreneurs about how—and why—they changed course and found success in an entirely different industry. Here, we speak to Christian Landry, the founder of New Brunswick-based barbecue sauce brand Mad Q Sauce.

I grew up in the food industry. My parents owned a restaurant and inn in New Brunswick, and I later ran my own sushi restaurant. In the late ’90s, I started an audio-visual company called Sono Clefs with a partner; we did corporate events, cultural festivals and conferences. In 2018, I started teaching part-time at Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick. I took on a range of courses: marketing, social media and food and wine service.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Sono Clefs’ business dropped by 70 per cent. Everyone was calling to cancel or postpone their events. That left me with a lot of time for cooking at home. I’m an avid barbecuer, and I’ve always had a passion for barbecue sauces. I probably have 15 or 20 jars between my fridge and my cupboard.

I decided to make my own sauce using local beer as a base. In December of 2020, I reached out to Les Brasseurs du Petit-Sault, a brewery in my hometown of Edmundston, to see if they wanted to collaborate on beer-based barbecue sauces. The owner loved the idea. In January and February, I started testing barbecue sauce recipes in my own kitchen using the brewery’s Louis XVII amber ale as a base. There were definitely some missteps along the way. I once added cranberries to a barbecue sauce and it tasted horrible.

A photo of Mad Q BBQ sauce

I invested about $30,000 of my own money to start the business. In January of 2021, I joined a kitchen incubator space in Riverview, N.B., where I could produce bottles of sauce. Then, in May, I launched my first barbecue sauce with an event at Les Brasseurs du Petit-Sault. I sold all 150 bottles. A few weeks later, I launched a new sauce with Picaroons, which is the biggest brewery in New Brunswick. I now have nine sauces on rotation. My company is called Mad Q Sauce.

The breweries love the partnership. It helps them sell more beer, and they use the sauces in food pairings in their kitchens. Other restaurants in New Brunswick have started using my barbecue sauces in their menu items too.

Last summer, I also started approaching grocery stores. I went to my local IGA, and they bought four cases. They sold out and bought 12 cases the following week, then 20 cases the week after that. I’m now selling the sauces in 30 supermarkets.

It takes about 15 hours to do three batches, which amount to 650 bottles. Last summer, I produced more than 8,000 bottles. My girlfriend and aunt often help me out in the kitchen, and I hired someone to work with me on production days. I’m also doing all the deliveries across the province. Sometimes I drive six or seven hours in one day. My goal is to work with as many micro breweries in New Brunswick as possible. There are about 30 of them, so I’ve got my work cut out for me.

As told to Andrea Yu
As told to Andrea Yu
Andrea Yu is a freelance journalist based in Toronto. She writes about life, culture, real estate, business and health with a focus on human-interest stories.