Photography by Venera Alexandrova
While many teens were glued to their phones during the pandemic, Zach Murray, who was in his junior year at Brunswick, was cooking up ideas for a business. When Covid was raging in January 2021, Zach was dreaming about summer jobs and staying busy. “I wanted to do something different, not just scooping ice cream,” he recalls. “Something I would be passionate about.”
Zach spends time every summer in Martha’s Vineyard, where his family has a home. He was enamored with the condiments and sauces at Sea Smoke, one of the restaurants on the island. So he approached the owner, a close family friend, about getting the recipe for his barbecue sauce and helping him sell it online. The restaurant owner was happy to share but on one condition, “Once I give you the recipe, I’m out of it.” Zach recalls the restaurateur saying that he was too busy to put another business on his plate. “You take it from here.”
Zach ran with it. He spent a few months perfecting the sauce, making sure it was the right thickness and enlisting help from a food scientist to ensure it had the right pH (a requirement for getting a naturally acidic sauce approved for sale by the FDA). By August, Zach had his first bottle of Sea Smoke Barbecue in hand with plans to sell online and direct through stores. The day after receiving that first batch, he already had a vendor, having walked into The Katama General store in Martha’s Vineyard with a bottle in hand and a letter explaining his story.
“I dropped it off with the owner, who I didn’t know,” Zach says. “They ended up liking it enough that they bought a case two hours later.” His next store was Old Greenwich Butcher, and he has continued to expand with the sauce sold at twenty-eight retailers, including locally at Mike’s Organic, The Country Table and Back 40 Mercantile.
When asked what motivated him to start this business at such a young age, Zach acknowledges that entrepreneurial spirit runs in the family. His great-grandmother was a literary agent, his cousin runs a car show, and yes, his uncles are Shep and Ian Murray who created Vineyard Vines. Zach’s Dad has come to share his interest in barbecue as well, with the two bonding over cooking with a high-tech smoker and turning out some serious pulled pork.
Celebratory family feasts inspired Zach as well. Some of his favorite food memories revolve around big gatherings, especially annual summer cookouts on Norton Point Beach and Thanksgiving dinners at his grandmother’s house.
Recently he has been working pop-up events, including a series of Friday night barbecues at The Country Table with Chef Geoff Lazlo called “What’s Geoff Smoking” and creating lunch specials at Dave and Charlie’s Hometown Deli in Norwalk centered around the sauce: a barbecue chicken sandwich with pineapple, pulled pork sandwich, BBQ burger with cheese and onions and baked beans made in the smoker with candied pork belly.
Now a student at Villanova, Zach recently received a $5,000 grant through the university’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and he put that toward boosting e-commerce. Zach built his own website and continues to expand. The next goal? To have fifty stores carrying Sea Smoke. And he’s determined to build on the brand: “Persistence has been one of the bigger things I’ve learned from this experience.” mvyflavors.com