Lazy summer weekends at Lake Sakakawea inspired two Dickinson businessmen to take a concoction of seasonings they’d long been made for themselves, and turn it into a product they could sell.
Five years later, Brenarsky’s seasoning sauce is a product known throughout North Dakota, and it is slowly gaining a following throughout the country as a secret ingredient in alcoholic beverages, a liquid seasoning for grilled meats and, as its label states, “whatever the heck else you’d like to put it on.”
Dave Bren and Scott Karsky became friends in the sixth grade and served in the Army National Guard together. Yet, it was at their neighboring lake cabins that they realized there might be a market for the sauce they had long been using to make their own bloody mary’s, caesars, clamdiggers and red beers.
“That’s where it all started,” Karsky said.
For years, Karsky and Bren had been known as guys who knew how to concoct a good drink.
“We used to carry spices around with us and it just kind of evolved,” Bren said.
The first true iteration of Brenarsky’s emerged in the early 2000s, when Bren said he was asked to mix up caesars and bloody mary’s for his co-workers at a company golf scramble.
“I tried to make them off the tailgate,” he said, adding that it didn’t work out. “The next year, I poured a bunch of stuff in a bottle. From there, it kind of evolved.”
By 2006, they continued to toy with the seasonings during summers at the lake. By 2009, they’d perfected the recipe.
“I said, ‘Let’s bottle this someday,’” said Karsky, an insurance agent.
“We kind of laughed about it,” Bren added.
But one night, using a whiskey bottle they later stuck a homemade label on, the duo mixed up the first bottle of what was about to become Brenarsky’s “Lot 42” seasoning sauce, which takes its name from the lot where their lake cabins are located.
“I still have it,” Bren said with a smile. “It’s pretty cool.”
The duo shared it with their friends and neighbors and, after overwhelmingly positive reactions, bought 100 cases of one-dozen 5 oz. bottles, which weren’t too different from the Brenarsky’s bottles found in stores today, Karsky said.
“We started brewing it in our kitchen,” Bren said. “We said, ‘Let’s try it and see what happens with it.’ It just started to go off the shelves. We couldn’t make it fast enough.”
They officially started bottling the sauce in 2010.
The name was Karsky’s idea of incorporating both of their last names into one — and he isn’t shy about admitting that a little liquid muse had a lot to do with the naming process.
“A lot of alcohol and some creativity, and it was like inspiration immediately,” he said with a laugh.
Kelly Wald, a Pride of Dakota specialist at the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, said it has been great to see Bren’s and Karsky’s hobby turn into a success.
Of the thousands of Pride of Dakota products, Wald said Brenarksy’s has been memorable and diverse.
“They’re not just looking at hitting up one specific niche with it,” Wald said. “I think that’s part of what makes them so popular.”
Wald said people who know she works with Pride of Dakota products have asked her where they can buy Brenarsky’s.
Bren and Karsky have five distributors in North Dakota and sell nationally through their Facebook page and website.
Locally, the sauce can be found at EconoFoods and Dan’s SuperMarkets, as well as several area liquor stores. A bottle retails for around $5 a bottle. Several bars carry the sauce to use in their drinks.
Bren said their children inspired the use of Brenarsky’s on foods. Even though they are too young to drink alcohol, they too wanted to use the sauce, he said.
“They’re like, ‘Well, what can we use it on?’” Bren said. “Next thing you know, someone put it on pizza. … My kids put it on almost everything.”
“It wasn’t a hot sauce,” Karsky added, “but it’s turned into that.”
Tony Elliott, the general manager of Players Sports Bar and Grill in Dickinson, said he discovered Brenarsky’s when he moved to Dickinson to work for The Fisher Group, where Bren is a partner and operations manager.
“We got some because we like the local stuff,” Elliott said. “Then, the next day at work, I showed up and found out we were actually producing the stuff.”
Elliott served as Players’ first executive chef when it opened. The restaurant’s bloody mary bar utilizes a great deal of Brenarskys, he said, and it is an ingredient in a handful of dishes, including prime rib. Players goes through about 60 bottles a week.
“We’re hoping they can come out with some sort of commercial packaging for us,” Elliott said.
A “hotter” sauce, Brenarsky’s 2X, debuted about a year after the original after Bren and Karsky heard the demand from customers at trade shows.
“People would always ask for a hotter one,” Karsky said. “We’d usually just add a couple more drops of original seasoning. We didn’t want to make it too hot.
“It didn’t take much, and some people love the hotter one. We sell about equal, actually. At the shows, we might actually sell more of the hotter one.”
All of the sauces are cooked and bottled at Full Service Foods in Hillsboro, N.D. There, they said, owner Amy Gordon cooked up samples using different iterations of the ingredients, contacted laboratories to determine the nutrition facts and even helped perfect the 2X sauce.
“It was cool how she did all that with us,” Bren said.
Karsky said they’re already thinking about the next step for Brenarsky’s, including bigger bottles or bottles with a pump for bars and restaurants. They have also talked about distributing the sauce to stores nationwide.
The duo has sold Brenarsky’s online to customers in 40 states and are in the process of having their website redesigned.
“One day, if we get serious, we might make some money off of it,” Karsky said.
They currently sell about 14,000 bottles a year — a conservative estimate, Bren said. It’s more than enough so that they can invest back into the sauce and keep it coming.
“The goal is one day that hopefully this will be a little retirement fund for us that’ll keep us going,” Bren said.
Eventually, they want their children to take over, and maybe even expand, the business.
Until then, Karsky said, they’re just enjoying the good times the sauce has provided them.
“We blow a lot of it on tailgate parties,” he said with a laugh. “We’re having fun with it right now.”