Art comes in many forms.
For Shawn and Wendy Martyak (pictured left), their dry rub and buffalo sauce business has been crafted to perfection, offering locals a balanced blend of flavor and spice that can only be described as art.
The Martyak’s start in the sauce industry with the Wait, What? Sauce Co. was born from the love of the average American’s game day Holy Trinity: wings, beer, and sports. When Shawn retired from the Frederick Police Department in 2011 after 27 years, he began experimenting more with cooking and smoking meats in his new-found free time. After discussing recipes and techniques with friends and other spice connoisseurs, Martyak began to hit his stride.
“About 20 years ago, I started playing with this sauce,” Shawn said. “There was a place in Frederick that had a wing sauce that I really liked with garlic in it. I couldn’t find it anywhere, so I started playing around. I wrote down everything that I did every time. Finally, I hit on the flavor that I was looking for.”
Figuring out the recipe was one thing, but sharing it with friends, family, and locals was the most rewarding part for the couple. The sauce found its first home at a small establishment in Blue Ridge Summit called The B&T Unique Bar and Grill, where the Martyaks began a tradition of stopping every Sunday to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers.
One Super Bowl, the bar decided to run a wing special, and the Martyaks offered to have the bar try out their signature sauce “Shawn’s Spicy Buffalo.”
“I brought a half gallon of my sauce up to see what people would think,” Shawn said. “Family and friends will tell you one thing, but I wanted to see what strangers would think.”
After the Super Bowl, the reviews came in, and people couldn’t get enough of the pair’s soon-to-be famous sauce.
“About 80 percent of the wings had our sauce on it, and it was like it was addictive,” he said. The bar asked Shawn for another half gallon of sauce, and even though Shawn had been making small batches out of his kitchen at the time, he was well-prepared to provide more sauce to local patrons. “Two weeks later, they said they were out of sauce, and the wing sales quadrupled.”
“As it gained in popularity, people started asking us to buy bottles,” Shawn said. The two had something special on their hands, and after straightening out the complexities of business certifications and permits, the Martyaks had the pieces in place to continue doing what they loved. “I’m very flattered and humbled that something that I make, so many people like,” Shawn said. “We even got our first fan mail letter this week.”
While the Martyaks emphasized their hopes to keep their sauce local and available for the people of Thurmont and the surrounding areas, they also have plans in the works for new sauces and rubs for people to enjoy.
And while the creativity and production of their products is still fun, there’s one thing in particular that keeps the Martyaks cooking. “What we like most about this is going to the farmer’s markets and meeting people, and hearing what they use it on,” Wendy said. “We learn a lot of new recipes that we can pass on to others.”
Even with the couple’s recent successes, they find no shortage of time to give back. The two often provide galvanized buckets of their specialty sauces and rubs, T-shirts, and aprons with the Wait, What? Sauce branding on it, along with donations, for local charities and events. Giving back is an important part of the growth of anything within a community, and it’s something that won’t soon be forgotten by the Thurmont residents.
“Here is where we think we fit the best,” Shawn said. “Not on a shelf in every grocery store, but at these little mom and pop places that people are starting to gravitate toward.”