Couple knows how to spice it up

By Carole Lamond/ Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Ara "Buz" Yacobian is a passionate recreational cook, but he never expected his hobby, and his special recipe for a dry rub, to spice up his professional life.

"I came up with a blend of spices that I thought would work on everything, and I made it in small batches like salad dressing," said Yacobian. "I'd send a cupful home in a Ziploc bag with friends. They kept asking for more, and it was suggested we market it."

Yacobian, whose family ran Ara's, a clothing store on Central Street in Wellesley for 47 years as well as a store in Boston, was familiar with marketing custom men's clothing, not food products. Two years after Ara's closed in 1990, Yacobian founded Bristol Clothing, a custom-men's clothing line, but the consistent rave reviews for his barbecue menus convinced him to launch Buzrub, a Sudbury-based company in January 2000.

Yacobian began tweaking the recipe, a blend of brown sugar, salt, herbs and spices. One ingredient the rub doesn't contain is monosodium glutamate (MSG), frequently used as a flavor enhancer in food products.

To barbeque enthusiasts the "rub," a mixture of seasonings and spices that is rubbed onto meat before cooking, creates a foundation of flavor that is then enhanced by slow-cooking and sauces. The right proportion of salt to sugar is critical in drawing moisture from the meat and leaving a caramelized glaze on the surface of the food.

"Most rubs rely on a lot of dried herbs, salt and garlic, and when they dry out in cooking they get crumbly in your mouth," said Yacobian. "Buzrub is really more of a seasoning that you rub in, and there's no trace of it, no little leafy rosemary or basil left behind."

Once the recipe was perfected, Yacobian found a firm in Boston that could take the recipe and mix it in large batches. The product is then shipped to Framingham where it is packaged in five-and-a-half ounce containers with a distinctive red, black and yellow label designed by Yacobian.

Mary Yacobian, a great cook herself according to her husband, does a lot of the marketing and order-processing for the business.

Rubs are limited only by the creativity and the taste buds of the chef, but when Yacobian's daughter Alyson was younger, the original recipe was too spicy for her.

"The original has a bit of cayenne pepper. It has a little kick, but it's not super hot," said Yacobian. "I removed the cayenne and made a milder version. Alyson's 14 now and she uses them both all the time."

Yacobian dubbed the new product Al's Blend for Alyson.

"The nice thing about Buzrub is that it has great results, everything comes out with a great color and wonderful flavor," said Yacobian. "And we sell throughout the year. It's not just for the grill, it can be used in the oven to braise with or to broil."

Yacobian's first big accounts were Captain Marden's in Wellesley and the Roche Bros. supermarket chain. Today Buzrub and Al's Blend are on the shelves of more than 100 retail stores and are used by chefs at several hotels and country clubs. In Sudbury the seasoning is available at Sudbury Farms, MacKinnon's and West Sport.

Buzrub and Al's Blend received kudos at the Pig n' Pepper barbecue festival in Westford in the fall of 2001, taking home first, second and third place awards. In a cooking competition at the festival, Buzrub was also a key ingredient in recipes for brisket and ribs that won top honors from the judges.

Yacobian has "some fun things coming" - a dipping sauce and a Bloody Mary mix that can be added to tomato juice - in his future marketing plans.

"Buzrub is growing nicely. Sales were up 40 percent last year and we're already knocking those figures out of the box," said Yacobian. "We've even shipped cases to Tennessee which is kind of like 'barbecue heaven.'"

'I'd send a cupful home in a Ziploc bag with friends. They kept asking for more, and it was suggested we market it.'