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A Kansas City chef in Napa: Darryl Bell shares profits from his Stateline Road BBQ

From the Napa Valley Wine Insider Digest: July 3, 2021 series
  • Updated
Darryl Bell

Darryl Bell, chef de cuisine at Press restaurant in St. Helena, also creates barbecue sauces for his company, Stateline Road BBQ.

Darryl Bell has what he calls his “ultimate dream job,” as chef de cuisine at Press restaurant in St. Helena. But his heart belongs to the barbeque of his hometown Kansas City, Missouri. Kansas City had barbeque joints, lots of them.

He started a company called Stateline Road BBQ with the main retail product being 816 BBQ Sauce. 816 is Kansas City’s area code.

The tangy sauce is tomato and vinegar-based, with garlic, brown sugar and spices.

“I loved barbeque, but the bottled sauce I grew up with was thick and the flavor was harsh,” said Bell. “So, I started making my own. Its consistency is looser; the flavors balanced. When the sauce heats, the sweetness comes in.”

Winemakers have compared his Stateline Barbeque Sauce to fine wine.

“It’s not one-dimensional,” Bell said.

The barbeque sauce is the result of cooking for as long as he can remember.

“Early on, when I was 7 or 8 years old, I loved to cook. We didn’t have a lot of money, so I made lentils and hot water cornbread.”

He’d sit on the counter stirring the pot, seasoning, smelling, tasting while his siblings played outside.

While growing up, Bell says he was “a pretty good kid,” but when his sisters and brother tormented him; he’d lose his temper and be punished.

“My mother wouldn’t let me cook,” said Bell. “That was the worst thing for me.

“I had fun cooking. I learned that, as you’re cooking, the flavors are changing and you’re building layers of flavor.”

As his cooking improved, he ventured into different spices from the cabinet.

“Once I got a taste of praise from my family, I’d wake up and make breakfast for everyone, then dinners.”

He went on to attend culinary school and worked as chef de cuisine at Benton’s Steak & Chop House in Kansas City. Eventually, Thomas Keller hired him to work at Bouchon where he rose to the position of executive sous chef. While there, he polished his barbeque sauce recipe and used it on chicken for staff meals.

Keller tasted it and the rest is history.

But first, a little background is useful.

Although his family didn’t have much, his mother volunteered at a soup kitchen to help the poor. Darryl and his siblings tagged along.

“There was a big window at the soup kitchen, and I watched the homeless, hungry people lining up for a meal. It was sad, I cried so much for them.”

After he moved to Napa, Bell heard about a charity called the Rafiki Foundation.

“It helps children and widows in Africa,” he explained. “I started donating to them, but I wasn’t making much money at the time, and it wasn’t sustainable. I wondered about ways to generate funds. What could I make that no one’s tasted before?”

With his wife, Angelica’s, encouragement, he began to manufacture his barbeque sauce and donate a portion of the proceeds to Rafiki. They’ve since also contributed to No Kid Hungry. So far, Bell estimates they’ve generated about $15,000 for the charities.

Bell’s secret to cooking spareribs at home starts the day before.

“I put the ribs in our quick brine where they soak for six hours. Our brine kit has instructions on how much water and a bag in which to brine. If you want to add lemon or wine, the recipe explains it. Then I cook low and slow for six hours. I pull it off and use the sauces. It’s the same timing for Baby Back ribs.”

It probably goes without saying that chef Bell doesn’t even mention propane.

“We’re sponsored by Traeger Grills (which uses wood pellets), so that’s how I generally do barbeque. Although one of our first sponsors was the Big Green Egg and I have to say there’s no substitute for charcoal, flavor-wise, so I’ll also use that.”

He grills fish with his sauce, too, by brining it for 10 to 30 minutes depending on the size. He prefers using halibut or bass. Vegetables get the sauce treatment as well, with favorites being portobello mushrooms, smoked tomato soup, and whole celery root.

He’s built up his line of barbeque products, which now include a brine, dry rub, and black truffle sauce. The truffle sauce has ¼ ounce of truffle in each jar. Bell hints there are different flavored sauces to come. In the spring of 2022, all Northern California Whole Foods stores will carry his sauce.

What’s in the future?

“If you’d asked me six months ago, the last thing I would have said was opening a barbeque restaurant. I used to say I didn’t go to culinary school and work in fine restaurants to cook barbeque all my life. But now…” Bell’s voice trails off before he resumes. “I haven’t found a barbeque place that I like. A self-serve barbeque shop sounds good. Just a hole-in-the-wall kind of place.”

With an increasing line of products and a possible venture into a storefront in the works, what’s left for this Kansas City chef?

“I’ll be happy when every home has a bottle of my sauce. We want to see about getting into stadiums and arenas. Otherwise, I won’t be quite satisfied or proud.”

“I’ll never forget why I started the business in the first place, to help the Rafiki Foundation and No Kid Hungry. There’ll always be a place in my heart to help people who can’t help themselves.”

To order any Stateline Road BBQ products or for more information check www.stateline-road.com.

From funnel cakes and lemonade to corn dogs and rice bowls, a variety of fairground-style flavors are available in Napa at this week's Greatest Portable Theme Park.

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