KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The inventor of KC Masterpiece sauce and a legend in the world of barbecue, Rich Davis died Tuesday at his home in Leawood, Kansas. He was 89.
In a tweet posted Wednesday, KC Masterpiece wrote: "The BBQ World lost one of its pioneers last night."
Davis, a piano prodigy who decided to become a child psychiatrist, founded Masterpiece Products Inc. in 1978 to manufacture the barbecue sauces he had created. In the early days, he delivered the sauce to stores in his station wagon. By 1986, revenue surpassed $5 million, and Davis sold the company to the Kingsford Products Co., a division of the Clorox Co. He used some of the capital to enter the restaurant business with his sons, Charlie and Rich.
At the same time Masterpiece took off, Davis was marketing a condiment mashup called Muschup. Never heard of it? That's because the mustard-ketchup never went anywhere. In taste tests, Davis' K.C. Soul Style BBQ Sauce was getting better reviews.
Before he brought it to market, he changed the name to KC Masterpiece and created a classy, understated logo to better stand out among his colorfully packaged competitors. "He had a new product, but he wanted to make it look like it had been around forever," recalled son Rich.
Today, KC Masterpiece is widely considered the archetype of the Kansas City-style tomato-based and molasses-sweetened sauces that have followed in its footsteps. Rich Davis II said his dad was a sharp marketer, once hosting New York's reigning food editors at a barbecue tasting on the East River. The invitation came in the form of just-cooked ribs wrapped in butcher paper.