ELLENTON - Kenny Polski’s kids were so picky at dinner, he wondered if they were getting enough to eat.
When he took them to the doctor near their home in Isanti, Minn., they got a clean bill of health, but the doctor urged Kenny to keep serving them good food.
Kenny, who was a supervisor for a trucking company, thought he might make some barbecue sauce to encourage them to eat meat.
Today, the kids are grown and Kenny is a grandfather, but he’s still making barbecue sauce.
It’s called “Kenny’s” and has morphed into a popular commercial product sold in more than 100 stores, including Sweetbay, Albertsons and Winn-Dixie supermarkets locally and elsewhere.
Each bottle sports Kenny’s real Ellenton cellphone number right on the label, along with the patriotic notation: “Made with Pride in the U.S.A.”
“Over many years, I developed the recipes,” explained Kenny, who retired and moved to Florida in 1997. He now sells seven varieties of barbecue sauce, two salsas and one chili sauce through his business, Kenny Polski, Inc.
He made some of the first batches of his barbecue sauce while living in a motor home with his pal, Gizmo the dog. Maybe Gizmo’s picture on some of the line brought good luck, because the stuff is selling pretty well.
At least that’s the opinion of Daniel Fulghum, store manager of Kenny’s hometown Sweetbay Supermarket on Seventh Street West in Palmetto.
Fulghum, who was among the first to stock Kenny’s products, said, “It’s been doing very well, you’ve got to sell product to keep it on the shelf” in a big supermarket like his.
When Kenny first started selling his barbecue sauce a few years ago, he basically did it door-to-door, Fulghum remembers.
“Every time we demo it, it sells great,” Fulghum said.
“Customers love it. Kenny is a super guy, he’s got a great personality, he’s a dynamic individual. He’s done well.”
Among entrepreneurs, it’s a big deal to have your product actually stocked by a major supermarket chain, a honor Sweetbay has accorded Kenny’s products, said his bottler, Matt Barber, who operates Hot Wauchula’s canning company in Lakeland. Barber has been making Kenny’s products since 2006.
“They don’t want to put anything in their warehouse that’s not going to move,” Barber explained.
It’s difficult for a small businessman like Kenny to compete with giant, international companies in a very competitive field, but Kenny seems to have what it takes, Barber said.
“He keeps adding a product or two every year,” said Barber, who occasionally takes Kenny’s sauces and salsas to trade shows, where the hottest varieties regularly sell out.
“It’s gotten really good reviews,” Barber said. “The hot stuff sells real well in Texas and New Mexico. They love the hot stuff.”
The milder versions and those made with ginger do better here, he said.
Barber, who manufactures his own line of salsa, sauces, dry rubs and jerk seasonings, is particularly fond of Kenny’s regular ginger barbecue sauce.
“I could dip boiled shrimp in it all day,” he confessed.
But success doesn’t seem to have changed Kenny much.
He still lives with Gizmo, a 14-year-old terrier, at the Pelican Pier Mobile Park in Ellenton.
He drives a Kia filled with boxes of his products. He hangs out with his friends down the road at Woody’s River Roo Pub and Grill, where he recently held a tasting.
“We have one word for it — ‘Wow!’ ” said Kim Kent, a massage therapist from Bradenton who attended.
“We’re all sold!” she said, ordering some from Kenny, who was more than happy to sell her a few bottles.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.