Even as a 10-year-old, J.J. Wergin had discerning taste buds. There’s no doubt that’s because his mother, Julie Enerson, taught all four of her boys early on that cooking was an important skill. She coached them from young lads on how to shop, prepare and then cook a meal.
So when young J.J. visited a friend with an Indonesian heritage and came home with high praise for a tantalizing sauce he had tried, Julie was intrigued. “He just went on and on about it,” she said. “He was really adamant about how good it was.” That set this mother-son team on a quest to come up with their own mix.
For years, Julie and J.J. tweaked ingredients for their sauce, eventually developing the perfect blend and a signature brand. Last October during Beef-A-Rama in Minocqua, the Wergin-Enerson families unveiled their “Sock It To Me” Garlic Ginger Sauce manufactured under the name of Julie Kay’s Kitchen. It was received with glowing praise. “Everyone who tried it loved it,” said Julie. “Since that day, it has gained a loyal following.”
The road to this accomplishment has been one of stalwart determination, unrelenting persistence and enduring passion for Julie and J.J. They’ve had plenty of support, too, especially from Andrew, Julie’s husband; J.J.’s brothers, Jeffrey, Jon and Jesse; and Andrew’s sons, Blake and Logan. “It’s been quite a journey to get our sauces to this point,” said Julie. “There’s been a lot of work done, but we are really excited about it.”
While it took years for Julie and J.J. to tweak their Garlic Ginger Sauce to their liking, it has also taken many years to market it into a product that can be found on local grocery store shelves. But Julie has never lacked determination when it comes to something she has a passion and love for.
Almost her entire life, this hard-working mom has been in the food industry. In her early teens she worked as a waitress at the Bass Lake Country Club in Antigo and at the Knights Templar Club near Summit Lake, where she was raised. She attended Nicolet College and graduated with a degree in management and then worked as a waitress at the Cafe and Pub in Rhinelander. She managed Phlox Dairy in Rhinelander for a number of years and then she was hired at Ray’s Grocery, where she was the deli manager. Then she managed a Dairy Queen in Stevens Point for six years before coming back to the Northwoods.
In 1996 Lee Guenther, president and CEO of T.A. Solberg Company Inc., approached Julie about working for the company. She realized this was a great opportunity and now oversees the bakeries in all six Trig’s locations, as well as the delis, all the Tula’s restaurants, two Shell stations and High Voltage, a new organic food booth at the Minocqua Trig’s. She’s also developed a very successful catering business for the Trig’s company over the years. And many readers of the Star Journal may recognize Julie as she writes a food column that is featured a couple of times a month.
But this industrious entrepreneur has always kept a focus on the dream to develop her Julie Kay’s Kitchen brand and expand on her Sock It to Me Sauces. “All through J.J.’s childhood, we worked on developing the Ginger Garlic Sauce,” she said. “And once we got it perfected, we wanted to manufacture it for the public.”
But getting a product from a home kitchen into grocery stores is a challenge not for the faint of heart. Julie and Andrew had to attend many state and federal mandated classes to prepare and certify them to make their sauces for the public. They even had to take a commercial canning course. “There’s lots of paperwork involved,” said Julie. “We had to come up with labels, a recall plan, UPC codes, ingredient lists and the sauces had to be tested for the correct PH so they are qualified to last on store shelves.”
Once the couple completed all these requirements they were ready for production, only they had no place to do that. Commercial food laws require that products be made in a licensed kitchen. That’s when Julie and Andrew approached her boss. She asked if she could rent out Tula’s Cafe one evening a week to make their sauce and also if the company would be willing to sell it in all the Trig’s stores. “Bring me a bottle of it,” requested Lee.
This intelligent and forward-thinking businessman turned out to be a helpful and supportive judge. “The first time he tried it he told us it was too thick and wouldn’t come out of the bottle,” said Julie. “We didn’t realize that when we heated it up to preserve it, the sauce became thicker. So back to the kitchen we went and tweaked the recipe some more.” Lee took a second bottle home and came back with a thumbs up. Now Trig’s exclusively stocks not only the Garlic Ginger Sauce, but also a Citrus Fire Sauce the family has recently developed as well.
The success of these two sauces is growing by the day and they have been gaining a steady and enthusiastic following. Julie has a Facebook page for her Julie Kay’s Kitchen brand and people post suggestions on how they use the sauces. Julie also posts recipes on this site with photos so people can see how it can be used. “I have people telling me they always have a bottle of Ginger Garlic or Citrus Fire in their house now,” she said. “It’s really interesting how people are finding ways to use it. It really makes me feel good when I hear how people are enjoying these sauces.”
Now with two of their creations off and running, Julie, Andrew and J.J. continue to develop other flavorful mixes. There is a Tomato Bliss in the works and a tasty barbeque sauce as well. Julie would someday like to develop a salsa product and she’s got some dip recipes she’s developing, too. And J.J. makes a mean cheesecake that the family knows will be a hit with customers when it comes time to develop a marketing plan for that. “This has all been a lot of work but I have enjoyed every step of the way,” said Julie. “My entire family has been involved and that has always been very important to me. I’m proud we’ve developed a product that’s made here locally and now can be purchased at Trig’s. When you have a passion for something, and then see it realized, it’s like a dream come true.”