Destination worth 712-mile motorcycle trek
When Gary Ivey gets an appetite for his favorite hot sauce, he goes the extra mile to get some. Make that 711 extra miles
Last month Ivey and eight of his friends revved up their motorcycles for a 712-mile round-trip quest to bring home bottles of Ivey’s preferred hot sauce and enjoy a sumptuous breakfast to boot.
Not only that, they rode all night from Lowell to Greenville, Miss. to bring home the sauce that Ivey of Rogers calls liquid gold. The folks at Jim’s Café in Greenville call it Gus Johnson’s Original Homemade Hot Sauce.
For eight years, Ivey and friends have made a motorcycle pilgrimage to the Greenville cafe on an all-night hot sauce ride. This year the group of Northwest Arkansas bikers left Lowell just before 1 a.m. on Saturday, May 23. They rode all night to reach the restaurant in time for breakfast just before 7 a.m.
When their plates arrived hot from the kitchen, the spicy yet sweet sauce starred at the morning meal. By the time breakfast was over, the group had opened their wallets and bought 51 bottles of hot sauce to take home.
The sauce first tickled Ivey’s taste buds in 2003 when his son lived in Greenville. Ivey was smitten with the taste right off and bought several bottles to share with friends back home.
“Some people who try it say ‘Now I know how come you ride 700 miles to get it’,” Ivey said.
The hot sauce ride starts in the wee hours so the group will roll into Jim’s Café just before it opens. That way they can park their bikes right out front for a group photo.
From Lowell, the journey heads south and east on Interstates 49 and 40. Then the route goes south into southeast Arkansas and across the Mississippi River to Greenville.
This year the group had the cafe to themselves. The owners hadn’t been opening on Saturdays, but opened that Saturday of Memorial Day weekend just for the bikers.
Katherine Brown, co-owner and hot sauce chef, said the cafe ships the home-made sauce all over the nation and sometime to Europe.
“But 712 miles might be a record for people driving to buy some,” she said.
The late Gus Johnson, a former owner, created the hot sauce recipe about 15 years ago, she said. Brown and her mom, Evelyn Brown, own the cafe and whip up batches of sauce from the original recipe. The cafe opened in 1909.
Ivey brought some samples for tasting to a Harley Owners Group meeting in Rogers on June 6. A taste reveals just the right spicy kick, combined with a delicious, sweet taste definitely worth a long motorcycle journey. It’s a rich red color with a texture similar to salsa.
It could be the only hot sauce that comes in liquor bottles. Gus Johnson used those to save money, Evelyn Brown explained. Back then friends would save their bottles for Johnson. Nowadays, a local bar recycles their empties back to Jim’s Cafe to be filled with sauce.
The all-night hot sauce ride rolled along without a hitch this year, except for rain.
“We’ve never been rained on, but this year 17 miles out of Russellville it rained. We rode most of the night through the rain,” Ivey said.
Riding at night, there’s more worry about deer on the highway, he added. And Ivey is usually asleep in the wee hours, not out riding his motorcycle.
“ I went to bed at 6 and got up at 10,” Ivey added. “Everybody tried to get some sleep, but didn’t sleep well because that’s not your normal sleep pattern.”
The group rolled out of Greenville after a hearty breakfast to head home with their prized souvenirs of sauce. Most got back to Northwest Arkansas around 3 p.m.
Jim’s Café will ship the home-made sauce anywhere for $15 a bottle, plus tax and shipping. Call the cafe at 662-332-5951 for details.
Or, head down the highway to Greenville on your own hot sauce ride.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at email@example.com