Experience the spice and spirit of homegrown sauce brand Cackalacky and learn more about its local roots
By Amber Watson | Photography by John Michael Simpson
A sauce by any other name is just a sauce, and Cackalacky is no ordinary sauce. Two decades ago, Harry Page Skelton Sr. and Caroline Lee Skelton experimented with locally grown ingredients in their kitchen to make a sweet potato-based hot sauce with a “secret spice blend.”
“We were having everyone try our yet-to-be-named sauce creation, and one of our friends said, ‘Hey, pass me some of that Cackalacky!’ That was it. We knew immediately that was the name,” Page says.
Though there’s no definitive origin for the word, “cackalacky” seems to best capture the spirit of a feisty, homegrown brand with a commitment to authentic and locally sourced ingredients, production and partners.
“We deliberated over the best way to spell the name and did a little digging,” Page explains. “No one had ever used the name Cackalacky in commerce – something I originally learned from my intellectual property professor at N.C. Central University when I was studying for my master’s in information science. So, we trademarked the name and, with the internet being relatively new at the time, were able to secure the domain.”
That was about 20 years ago in Chapel Hill when Caroline was pursuing her master’s of business administration at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. She sought input about their idea to commercially produce a unique sauce complementing Southern cuisine. “My classmates and professors were instrumental in helping to incorporate the business, trademark the Cackalacky name, position the brand and execute marketing initiatives for our startup company. I utilize my master’s in our daily decisions and reflect on my UNC experiences often,” she says with pride about the company, now based in Pittsboro.
Page admits that building brand recognition and a solid reputation takes time. He had to overcome discouragement during the first decade when people at sampling events would ask, “What’s a Cackalacky? Never heard of it.”
After hundreds of events like that from here at home to as far away as Houston, New York and Albuquerque, New Mexico, people now say things like, “That’s you guys?” and “I can’t believe you trademarked that name!”
Tenacity and determination helped establish a strong foothold in the market, but the heart of their business model comes from the relationships they have with a select network of small, independent North Carolina businesses in cities like Henderson, Raleigh, Durham, Winston-Salem and Greenville.
“As much as we have grown geographically, at our core, we are still a hardworking local mom and pop (and son) operation,” Page says. “Because we use a patchwork of local makers, brewers, printers, distributors and artisans to help make our Cackalacky wares, we’ve helped create and sustain jobs all over the state.”
Partnerships can yield success, like Cackalacky’s Cheerwine Sweet Sauce, which is used by restaurant partners like Biscuitville (another large family-run operation) and is stocked in every Food Lion in the nation that carries heat and serves ribs. Along with sweet and spicy sauces, Cackalacky offers pepper powder, spiced nuts and coffee beans. Their brand-new product is a lip balm made with peppermint oil, organic beeswax and hemp-derived, broad-spectrum CBD extract called Cackalacky “Gooshie Lips,” a cute name Page and Caroline tossed around for years to mean “kissable lips.”
The last 20 years have been “a very long-winded prologue for the Cackalacky brand story,” Page says. “Chatham County is a big piece of this story. It’s home, and both the county and our business are growing in unexpected ways with more exciting news on the horizon.”