Capital City Co. moves its mambo sauce business to Prince George’s County

Our Melford Town Center clients at Capital City Co. were recently features in the Washington Business Journal:

Washington Business Journal | Hannah Denham

About the business: Capital City Co. makes mambo sauce, D.C.’s signature sweet, tangy condiment that local residents could only find in carryout stores until the business started bottling it. The company employs eight and just moved into Prince George’s County.

How it started: Arsha Jones grew up in D.C., eating mambo sauce with her chicken wings from local carryout joints. When Jones, her husband Charles and their children moved to Maryland, mambo sauce was harder to find, so she experimented in her kitchen and made a pot of her own once or twice a month to enjoy with her family for meals.

One day, Jones wondered if other D.C. natives who had moved away or were stationed overseas also missed their mambo sauce. She and her husband started bottling her recipe in 2011, and sold the product online. Then, the requests poured in for more.

“As gentrification takes over the neighborhoods and new people are moving [in], these carryout restaurants are starting to die off,” she said. “There used to be two or three on this block and now they’re hard to find. Our goal was to give people a taste of home to take home.”

Jones opened a warehouse in Arnold, Maryland, where her team would bottle the sauce for retail partners like Walmart, Safeway, Target and Capitol Hill Supermarket. A handful of Papa John’s restaurants in Greater Washington now offer the sauce on wings, and, in 2013, Capital City also started selling its bottles through Amazon.

“We literally started in the kitchen with one pot and one bottle and an idea and a dream,” said Jones, CEO of the company. “For me, I am living the American dream right now.”

Capital City offers a slew of products: mild and sweet hot mambo sauces, by the bottle or the gallon; T-shirts and soon-to-debut fire-roasted mambo sauce wings. Jones said the tomato-based sauce can work as a dip, condiment or marinade.

The pandemic effect: Jones and her team were afraid of the unknown health and financial effects, as many businesses were, as the coronavirus pandemic spread across the United States. But the crisis brought a surprise: Business boomed, propelled by an uptick in home cooking.

“It was a great opportunity to get in homes,” Jones said. “People were staying home and eating more at home and cooking more at home.”

Capital City’s sales grew by 40%, and Amazon orders, in particular, soared, Jones said.

The pandemic pivot: That jump in online demand helped Jones and her team focus on Capital City’s partnership with the e-commerce giant, she said.

“It really forced us to kind of streamline the processing,” Jones said, adding they quickly learned how to scale up their operations to manage inventory and keep the shelves stocked for orders. “I look up every day and I wonder how we got through last year because it was crazy.”

The challenge today: Capital City’s small team works around the clock to keep up with that spike in demand.

“As a small business and a small, self-funded business, it’s really hard,” Jones said. “It’s a delicate balance of how much product to have versus how much you can sell. We’re always trying to walk a thin line between selling enough and not holding on to too much.”

What’s next: In June, Capital City expanded to a larger warehouse in Bowie, shifting its headquarters from Anne Arundel County to keep up with the customer demand and expand its team of employees. The 8,280-square-foot space is part of St. John Properties’ Melford Town Center.

“I am really excited about where this is going,” Jones said.