The Blacksauce Kitchen stand is arguably the most popular station at the 32nd Street Farmers Market. At any given moment on this Saturday morning, there’s a line pointing directly towards Damian Mosley, Blacksauce’s owner and co-founder.
“Where’d you get that shirt?” he asks a customer. “You know, I saw Nigeria play in Senegal a while back.” “How are the kids?” he asks. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
A tattoo across Mosley’s right arm spells out the word “Biscuithands.” Manning the register in a signature flat cap, Mosley handles the line with a cool and calm methodology. He jots down names and takes orders amidst a cacophony of noises: the sizzling of fried rice and fried eggs, the sounds of good food being made.
“I know this might sound crazy, but I don’t like people all too much,” he says. “But food, from an early stage, gave me a way to relate to people.”
Through cultivating relationships, Blacksauce Kitchen has been able to create a name for itself for over a decade. Founded in 2010 by Mosley and business partner Vesnier Lugo, Blacksauce first began as a mobile food and catering business, opening stands and drawing crowds wherever they would go. In 2017, they opened the Remington shop which served customers looking to order biscuit sandwiches, barbecue takeout, and homemade limeade every Thursday. One year later, a devastating kitchen fire would put all that on pause. For the past three years, the five-person team has been hustling to return and rebuild, announcing this week that the Remington storefront is now back open to the public once more.
Food, from an early stage, gave me a way to relate to people.
Blacksauce has an almost cult-like following in the city. Customers track the weekly menu online, place orders, and wait in long lines at various locations across town: the 32nd Street Farmers Market, JFX Farmers Market, and The Markets at Highlandtown. Due to the pandemic, the team paused public appearances, instructing customers to pick up orders at The Tire Shop formerly known as Parts & Labor.
The menu’s cornerstone item, freshly baked biscuits, are made each day at the break of dawn just before service. They are an integral component of the famed Blacksauce biscuit sandwich which typically includes smoked meat delectables such as coffee stout-braised pork, barbecue lamb, or bison cherry sausage.
“This is my fifth or fourth time here,” customer Roland James explains. He jokes with Mosley, telling him how the last time he stopped by, the line was so long he knew he would be late for work. “I just wanted a biscuit and so I said to myself, if I’m going to be late, I’m going to get two of them.” They both laugh. “So that’s what I did.”
“It’s some of the best barbecue I’ve had in the area,” says customer Linice Garsys. “My barber told me about it because he would go all the time, and since my housemate worked around the corner from the brick and mortar he would send us the menu.”
Garsys tells Mosley this too. “I’m glad to see you all back,” he says. Mosley smiles and nods. “Man, I’m glad too.”
The intimate performance—the banter, the live production of food assembled and served directly from griddle to customer—is a part of an intentional and effective formula.
[Cooking] in front of people, watching, smelling, listening, and having conversations while cooking. The food is so much more vibrant that way.
“From the beginning, our business was built on the performance of food,” Mosley explains. “[Cooking] in front of people, watching, smelling, listening, and having conversations while cooking. The food is so much more vibrant that way.” This level of performance also cultivates a larger sense of community. “Food has become a way to be a giving person, to take one way that I’m very talented and project that out into the world, have conversations with people, become a part of people’s collective memories.”
Of course, when the pandemic hit, this dynamic changed. The team stopped production at the farmers markets for months as they shifted to a model that served reheatable, pre-packaged meals and pre-ordered biscuit sandwiches. The lines of people for a free-range egg with manchego, fig jam, and arugula on a biscuit right off the griddle were replaced by people in cars waiting patiently to pick up their pre-orders. Not being able to access their customer base in the same way took a toll on the team.
“When I think of businesses out there in Black neighborhoods, owned by Black entrepreneurs, businesses that sell their products in vibrant and colorful language, and people who are out in the community, I have to wonder, how do they survive during a time like this?” Mosley wonders.
For Blacksauce, survival is an overarching theme.
Three years ago, in the early morning of March 9, 2018, Blacksauce’s Remington kitchen and storefront space, which had just opened the previous year, suffered a devastating electrical fire. They closed at around 10:30 p.m. Thursday night when just six hours later, everything they had built, everything they had worked for, went up in flames.
“I was worried about him,” says Denzel Mitchell Jr., Deputy Director of the Farm Alliance of Baltimore and a member of the Blacksauce team. “I know [Mosley is] super resilient but when I went to the kitchen [that day], it was devastating. Everything was gone.”
Mitchell met Mosley in 2012, selling him produce for the Blacksauce menu. Mitchell was primarily focused on farming and food production back then, but when he met Mosley something clicked. “I think that was the first time I’d met somebody who was demonstratively a cook, somebody that I could immediately identify with.”
Mitchell joined the team as a cook two years later. “We don’t chef for a living,” he explains, balancing a wok in one hand and an egg in another. “We cook. We make food for folks in our community. There’s no pretension and there’s no air, just good people making good food.” When the fire happened, the team understood that their work heeded a larger and communal call.
Just two weeks after the fire, Blacksauce opened a makeshift shop out of the R. House kitchen, about a block away. Service was up and running again and customers found their way back in line. As a result, the practice of preservation became an integral pillar to the Blacksauce model, one that insists on centering the food over the commodity, human interaction over a digital interface, and calm amidst calamity. Even now, amidst a pandemic, there’s a resolute sense of endurance that washes over the team.
“I grew up watching my grandmothers, homesteaders in Oklahoma, practice a level of food sovereignty that was quite normal to us even before we had the language for food sovereignty,” says Mitchell. “What I saw from my elders was despite their condition, despite their station in life, they were still able to exert for themselves a certain level of freedom.”
Food sovereignty is often defined as a system in which those who produce food also control its distribution. This inherent act of resistance through intentionality is the bedrock to Blacksauce’s success and is a tradition that continues to pass through generations.
Fourteen-year-old Idris Mosley grew up watching his father work the market. Today, he’s behind the table preparing biscuit sandwiches. “I got up at 3 a.m. to make the biscuits,” he says. “It’s a lot of hard work to make sure the food is fresh but I love getting to see what my dad feels.”
Blacksauce has returned to the 32nd Street Farmers Market, now on a bi-weekly cadence. The team also recently announced that after three years, their storefront at 401 W. 29th Street is opening up again.
“After a long, long interruption to Blacksauce Thursdays, we are excited to welcome you back to the shop,” a post on their Instagram reads. The post has more than 100 comments from customers across the city.
It’s been a long road for the Blacksauce team since 2018, and now they find themselves beginning a new chapter with a line—once again—pointing directly to Mosley.
“Now that we’re back in our building and right on the precipice of opening to the general population, a lot of it feels worth it,” says Mosley. “It’s funny because sometimes people will say they are so proud of us for sticking through it and preserving, but I’m not looking at it as something that I should be proud of. I’m just looking at it like something to hold onto that doesn’t slip away.”
The Blacksauce Kitchen storefront is open Thursdays from noon-8 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m.-noon. You can find Blacksauce at the 32nd Street Farmers Market every other Saturday. Follow their Instagram @BlacksauceKitchen to stay connected with hours and openings.