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Bootleg BBQ grows in Skaneateles

Even Santa Claus loves Tom's Bootleg BBQ Sauce. He appears here with sauce creator Tom Armstrong.

Even Santa Claus loves Tom's Bootleg BBQ Sauce. He appears here with sauce creator Tom Armstrong.

— The label, Armstrong’s design, is bright, colorful and fun: a cartoon of Armstrong in red tights and a kitchen apron, gripping cooking utensils in one hand, with a huge, gap-toothed infectiously happy smile on his face.

“The whole thing about my product is simple, easy and fun. You gotta bring out the joy in life. That’s what it’s all about,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong has lived in Skaneateles since 1995 and has more than 30 years of culinary experience, including stints at Hobart & William Smith College in Geneva, Bryant College in Smithfield, R.I., Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., and Wells College in Aurora. For 14 years he has worked on and off as the day chef at Rosalie’s Cucina in Skaneateles.

Armstrong also does most of his marketing and publicity the old-fashioned way: he gets in his car and drives around Central New York, visiting shops and restaurants, attending fairs, cook-offs and music festivals and shows, looking to interest people in his product.

“There’s a lot of let-downs, people say they’re not interested, but you just smile and say thank you and keep moving forward,” Armstrong said.

Tom’s Bootleg BBQ Sauce is now sold in dozens of retail shops across CNY and used in numerous restaurants. This summer it was a hit at the State Fair, where, Armstrong said, he sold 10 cases.

Recently the sauce was ranked number 12 out of 40 national entries in the “Best Sauce on Chicken” category in the National Barbecue News annual “2011 Sauces of Honor” contest. Tom’s Bootleg BBQ Sauce was the only sauce in the entire Northeastern United States in the ranking; the rest were from the south or west.

Armstrong acknowledges that it’s tough competition to be near Syracuse, the home of the nationally-recognized Dinosaur Bar-B-Que chain, but he knows his sauce is good and he feels confident he can compete with any other sauce on the market.

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