Just south of the $70 bottles of wine, west of the English bitter-orange tea and steps away from the fresh seafood sausage, Sioux Elledge of Laguna Niguel, former psychologist and current gourmet sauce maven, is waiting to share a taste of her dream.
Elledge, 44, red-haired, bubbly and wrapped in an apron embroidered with her name, greets the passing Saturday shoppers at the Manhattan Beach branch of Bristol Farms, a gourmet market chain. Those who linger more than a second before Elledge's display of Sioux Z Wow Gourmet Chile Sauce find themselves tasting it on grilled chicken or a cream-cheese appetizer.
Elledge, who once helped women jump-start their careers and crank up their self-esteem, seldom waits for a yes or no before offering a sample. If shoppers say they don't like anything too spicy, she assures them the chili-flecked, fat-free "Califoriental" sauce isn't. If they say they like their sauce with a kick, Elledge tells them Sioux Z Wow is the one for them.
"You invented this?" a woman asks, examining the bottle.
Elledge grins and nods. "That's my baby."
The $5.98 sauce that bears her name sits in more than 30 gourmet stores, restaurants and catering companies from San Juan Capistrano to South Pasadena. On this day, Elledge's demonstration will sell 72 bottles for Bristol Farms. The Sioux Z Wow company's January sales were 1,700 bottles. That's as many bottles as had sold since August, when the Elledges began selling in earnest.
But Sioux Z Wow is more than just a business to Elledge, who, along with her husband, Terry, has gambled nearly $30,000 on its success. The sauce is part of her life's transformation. And Elledge believes that with these 16-ounce bottles, she can touch more people than she could when she had a "couch shop."
The Elledges have throttled down a once-affluent lifestyle to support their business. Gone are the Friday-night sushi dinners and the $1,000 silk outfits Sioux bought to wear at her seminars. "Tar-jay," she said, giving the store name Target a Gallic inflection, "is my favorite little French boutique now."
The Elledges have one car and borrow another from Terry's mother when necessary. Terry Elledge works part time as a management consultant, and the couple put as much of that money as possible back into Sioux Z Wow.
"It feels to me sometimes like I've given up consumerism completely," Sioux Elledge said. "My life has just simplified. My attention, my focus, is elsewhere, not on acquisition. And I don't mind."
Career switches such as Sioux Elledge's are happening more often in the United States, management experts said. While many people are pushed into new careers by corporate downsizing, some make changes because they want to. They're not necessarily looking for more money, but for more time and control over their lives or a greater sense of accomplishment in the work they do, said Charles Sterling, assistant professor of management at Chapman University in Orange.
"People are realizing greater options than they ever had in the past," Sterling said. "It's a general reflection of our lifestyle in America. Change is OK. We shouldn't lock ourselves into anything because we think that's what we have to do. It's more socially acceptable now to say, 'I've spent 15 years in this career; I think there are parts of me that are unfulfilled.' People simply have to be the greatest judge of what's right for them."
Elledge isn't the first counselor to find a new career in the kitchen. Seventeen years ago, Dr. Rich Davis, a Kansas City, Kan.-based child-and-family psychiatrist, started marketing his KC Masterpiece barbecue and grilling sauce.
After two years of juggling medicine and sauce, he gave up his practice to devote himself solely to the product. Now KC is one of the top-selling premium barbecue sauces in the country, Davis said. He sold KC Masterpiece to the Kingsford division of the Clorox Co. in 1986 and now devotes his time to the four KC Masterpiece barbecue restaurants in the Midwest he has opened with his sons.
Davis, who has a contract with Clorox that bars him from offering specific advice about making and marketing sauce, wouldn't draw comparisons between the success of his enterprise and the Elledges' at the seven-month mark. But he said every bottle the Elledges sell in the highly competitive sauce world is a victory for them.
"It's exactly where you have to start," he said. "You sell a bottle. You sell a case. You sell to two stores, to 20 stores."
Davis, 68, has framed a written telephone message to commemorate the company's breakthrough: KC's first 1,000-case order.
"And from that, we just began to grow," he said. "It's hard work. You have to have confidence, not give up. Every time you get knocked down, you get up, go sideways and come back on 'em. I encourage people to go for it. Have your dreams and try to make them happen."
That's advice that Sioux Elledge might have given her 30 clients a few years back, when the Florida-born holder of a doctorate in educational psychology had a private practice in Irvine. Known then by her maiden name, Sioux Harlan, she was the quintessential Orange County professional, from the hood of the Jaguar to deck of the house in Laguna Beach.
She took charge of her life early, changing her name from Sue to Sioux in the seventh grade, after playing the role of Cherokee Sioux in a class play. (" Sue was a verb that lawyers used," she said. "It was the way you called pigs.") She went to college "to get a Mrs. but discovered I was smart and (that) it was OK to be smart." She stayed on for graduate school.
In 1977, after working with delinquent teen-age girls and encouraging returning Vietnam veterans to attend college, she came to California. At that time, women were surging into the work force, and "Dr. Sioux," as she came to be known, made it her business to help them find their way.
For four years, starting in the early '80s, she had a radio show, "Full Esteem Ahead" on KUCI-FM. That led to appearances on television.
In 1981, she began working with a company called Breaking Free that put on hotel-based seminars, pulling in 3,000 women at a time for "multimedia, phantasmagorical" motivational seminars, complete with slides, tapes, books and original music. It was show biz, albeit a show rooted in psychology, Elledge says.
In time, she started her own seminars and built her counseling practice. She believed in affirmations ("Happy, healthy, worthy, wealthy," for example, repeated 10 to 20 times a day, preferably in front of a mirror). She called herself a "bibliotherapist" and dispensed prescriptions for books she thought her clients should read.
Terry Goldfarb-Lee heard Elledge speak at a women's seminar 15 years ago, and when she needed a counselor a couple years later, she sought her out.
"She gave me a couple tangible kinds of tools to help me pull myself out my funk and help me visualize where I was going," said Goldfarb-Lee, 49, who has stayed friends with her former therapist. "And the tools went above and beyond that. They literally catapulted me into another place."
Elledge loved that work. So if you'd sat her down on the black couch in her Irvine office eight years ago and asked her to visualize her own future, she would not have been able to tell you about standing in a supermarket on a Saturday morning, smiling at strangers and hawking cooking sauce.
"I figured at 93, I'd still be facing the couch saying: 'Tell me about yourself.' " She gave her trademark laugh: an unvarnished, full-throated guffaw.
But instead of zipping along on autopilot, Elledge and her husband, Terry, 54, have turned onto a new route. Sioux Z Wow is driving now. And the Elledges are happy to be along for the ride.
"I always loved psychology because I got to go deep into people, and it was so sacred to be allowed into their inner sanctum," she said. "But it took hours and hours and sometimes years to get there. You feed 'em and man, in two seconds you're there. It's a much shorter route to their hearts through their mouths than through their minds."
She pauses for a moment before explaining her deepest, quasi-mystical beliefs about Sioux Z Wow.
"I'm very cognizant of the vibratory rate of things. I really believe that when a butterfly flaps its wings in South America, it affects my life. I know how much love and joy I put into this venture, and, whether I ever meet you or not, when you eat this sauce, you will feel it--from my intention."
Sioux Z Wow sauce might never have had the chance to touch psyches--or shrimp kebabs--if the Elledges' lives hadn't gone slightly haywire in the second year of their marriage.
At the time, Terry was director of training and development for Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Co. in Newport Beach. He and Sioux had been friends for three years before they married in 1986. They were well matched. They read the same books. They spoke the same language, a dialect of the human potential movement. (He asked her to lead a seminar with him because "she was as comfortable with her masculine side as I was with my feminine side.")
And they loved cooking. Sioux discovered her flair in graduate school, when a dozen eggs became "something incredible" with her mastery of spices. Their friendship grew to love in the kitchen one evening as they whipped up food for a friend's 30-guest wedding shower.
But in 1988, Terry hit a career crisis. Pacific Mutual was in its third round of downsizing. The work that Terry loved had changed with the company's diminution. When he was asked what position should go next, Terry suggested his own.
"I did some consulting (after that), but I was not enthusiastic about going out and finding work," he said.
Sioux was stunned. She had visualized her perfect mate three years before she met Terry. And he was it--except that he lacked a mustache. Now she thought she might have overlooked a few other variances, too.
"I looked at this man I had married . . . and thought, 'How can I have been so wrong?' He knew I wanted to go to Paris for lunch. He knew that a Jaguar was just the car on my way up to whatever I was going to drive beyond that. He knew that the house on the beach--rented--was going to be the house on the sand--owned. How dare he fall out of the yoke?"
She strained harder at the harness, booking more clients, scurrying after more seminars, refusing, despite her training, to see how depressed her husband was. But the couple finally sought help together.
At one point during counseling, a therapist asked Sioux to imagine her perfect house--spacious, airy, art-filled, beach-fronted. She and Terry were there together. Now, quickly, the therapist said, see yourselves in a hovel. Then, in psychic Ping-Pong, the therapist bounced her from image to image: hovel, palace, hovel, palace.
"What I saw was that this palace just created space and space between us," Sioux said. "In the hovel, we got closer and closer. I saw that the real desire of my heart was to bring us to a place where we lived in absolute intimacy, regardless of whether it was a hovel or a castle."
They gave up the Jag and moved from the beach house to a Laguna Niguel condo. In 1991, Terry went back to "corporate America," as director of training and development for a Los Angeles firm. Every day, Sioux drove him to the train and listened to his playful mantra: "My job today is to go downtown and earn money to support you and figure out a way to make a living adoring you."
At the time, she thought that kind of talk was "just a piece of our romance."
But in the middle of that year, Sioux Z Wow was born. And although angels did not descend to announce her arrival, the Elledges later decided she was the answer to Terry's daily refrain.
It happened this way: Sioux had asked a friend to stay for dinner. She got a chicken out of the refrigerator and whipped up a marinade, using whatever she had at hand. As usual, she didn't write down her recipe.
But the resulting sauce was great, even for Sioux. The guest pleaded for the last of the sauce.
"I said to Sioux, 'If she's doing that, we have to figure out how you made it so you can make it again,' " Terry said. "I made her get out everything she'd used and made her talk to me: what came first, second, how much of what. We played around for several days till we got it just the way it was."
The sauce made its public debut in the summer of 1993. Terry had left his Los Angeles job and was consulting again. Sioux, meanwhile, had lost her enthusiasm for seminars.
"My soul was saying, 'Honey, you don't want to be here anymore,' " she said. Seminars were how she got most of her new clients; her caseload was shrinking.
About that time, Steve Curtis, a friend and the owner of a Balboa Island home with a three-story tower that earned it the name of "the Castle," made them an interesting offer.
"He came to us and said, 'I want to put more love in the world, and I know that's what you guys do. Nobody puts more love in the world than you do, with the way you cook and entertain. So could we join forces?' "
The Elledges agreed. They decorated, hosted, cooked, shared their techniques and gave out cookbooks with the recipes they had prepared.
The sauce that came to be known as Sioux Z Wow was incorporated into many of the meals. Guests, friends and the Elledges' families began clamoring for it. They started making it by the gallon. In August, 1994, they began marketing it when they could. Then, in October, their friend married and decided to discontinue the Castle dinners.
Sioux knew she wouldn't revive her practice.
"Sioux Z Wow called me away from the couch. She basically said, 'I need your help.' "
The Castle dinners confirmed what Sioux already suspected: Her contribution to the world's quotient of love and joy didn't have to be based on her therapeutic credentials. She could do it with her culinary gifts.
"I didn't have to live up to anything except entertaining these people to the hilt," she said. "But I could only seat 12 people at the Castle. I could only touch 12 lives at a time. The sauce became the propulsion beyond the Castle, to go out further, to more people."
The Elledges' business is "a joy ride extraordinaire," which means, of course, some stomach-clenching dips along the way. After the Elledges had 5,000 labels printed, the Food and Drug Administration told them it had incorrectly allowed them to list "love and joy" among the sauce's ingredients. The FDA agreed to let them use some of the labels, but they had to ditch the rest. ("Love and Joy" still appears on the label, although not in the ingredient list, which includes red chilies, oyster flavor, garlic, vinegar, wine and spices.)
But the joy ride's balancing highs have come from the enthusiasm of store owners and meat managers for Sioux Z Wow's all-purpose sauce, which can be used as a marinade, grilling sauce or dip.
One of the biggest boosters is Bob Bacca, owner of El Toro Meats and one of the first store owners to buy the sauce. Bacca let the Elledges do a store demonstration and featured Sioux Z Wow in his recipe newsletter. He's sold more than 200 bottles.
"Sioux is really good, the way she talks to people," he said. "And the product is fantastic. When they're making millions of cases, and the price is $2.99 (per bottle), Kraft or somebody is going to buy them up. They're going to make millions."
Sioux laughed. "I'd entertain the offer," she said, "but that's not the intention."
Does she have a plan if Sioux Z Wow fizzles?
She shrugged. "I'll find another way to put love and joy in the world."
Michelle Johnston, 42, of Huntington Beach, has put several thousand dollars into the enterprise because she believes in the Elledges' mission. Johnston, a former client of Sioux's, carries business cards that introduce her as the company's "vice president of joy."
She conducts store tastings on the weekends and says that some people buy the sauce not just because it tastes good, but because they are inspired by the self-fulfillment the Elledges say they've found by selling sauce.
"I think it gives them hope, that it isn't just a pipe dream, that they too have a talent that they could manifest. A lot of people out there would like to make a career or life change but for whatever reason are holding themselves back. This is a demonstration of going to the cliff and taking the leap."
Goldfarb-Lee has no doubt that Sioux will succeed.
"It's her sheer energy and her ability to visualize and act on her ideas--exactly what she taught me and others to do. Whatever you can dream or visualize, you can do. Reading the (label) was great. It was just so Sioux."
"I think there is a lot of me in this bottle," Sioux said. "I am fiery. I am sweet. I am complex, and the sauce is all of those things." She ruffled her hair. "It's even my shade: chili pepper with a little paprika on the side. I don't know that I'm fat-free, but I am very versatile."
Terry leans toward her. "The real you is fat-free," he purrs.
And they laughed uproariously.
At a recent Bristol Farms demonstration, Sioux thought she spotted someone familiar hanging around on the crowd's fringe. He finally stepped up and said her dissertation adviser was his best friend. He bought a bottle of sauce for him. Sioux asked him to take a message too.
"Tell him I'm living up to his expectations," Sioux said. "He always told me I was a saucy woman."
Background: Born in Ohio and raised in Florida. Came to California "as soon as I could" in 1977. Lives in Laguna Niguel.
Family: Husband and business partner Terry Elledge.
Passions: Entertaining with "exquisite, exotic" cooking and presentations and "putting more love in the world."
On the challenge of learning the sauce business: "We didn't know the rules or the distribution system. We didn't know the difference between a broker and a distributor. But I love that. I'm a good student."
On her optimistic view of her life: "My feeling is that I've been living a fairy story for a very long time. I acknowledge the reasonable, rational world, but I don't dance with it a lot."