Story By Hilary Brady | Photography By Keith Ketchum
Alysa Walker has been fervent for food as long as she can remember. Growing up, Alysa’s mother affectionately called her “little sous chef,” a fitting title for the little one that was often glued to her mother’s side as she stirred, scrambled and sautéed around the kitchen. Alysa was just ten years old when she entered her first cooking competition, and just a few years later she was well on her way to a career in catering.
Today, Alysa is the master of her own kitchen. With a successful recipe now professionally distributed and frequently requested around the country, Alysa has officially turned in her tiny apron and childhood title, graduating from sous chef to sauce queen.
Alysa was raised on a horse farm in Dunn, a central North Carolina town well known for its agriculture and manufacturing.
“We raised, bred and showed horses,” says Alysa, “and, of course, we were always in the kitchen. I was always right by my mom’s side, helping her with her country cooking.”
Alysa’s mother specialized in Southern country food.
“Vegetables and fried chicken and things like that,” says Alysa.
When she wasn’t in the kitchen with her mother, Alysa was working in the family pork-processing plant, handling ham, bacon, sausage, Boston butts and more. Her experience in the plant helped her to understand how a business operates. Something a typical 13-year old wouldn’t yet grasp.
“I worked there until I was old enough to get a job,” explains Alysa. “When I was 16, I started waiting tables at a local steak and seafood restaurant.”
The restaurant management recognized quickly that Alysa truly enjoyed working with food. It wasn’t long before she was transferred to the restaurant’s catering division, where she was able to exercise her cooking creativity, preparing dishes for special events and weddings.
An Arresting Journey
Fast-forward several years and into a slight (okay, a little surprising) career move into the probation field. Alysa meets the man of her dreams, James Walker. At the time, James was serving as the mayor of Lillington, a small town — only four square miles in size — located just 15 miles from Alysa’s hometown of Dunn.
“Because Lillington is so small,” explains Alysa, “the job of mayor was only part-time. So, while holding office, James, who had previously worked in the court system, was also working [part-time] as a probation officer. I was working as the director of community service [at the same facility]. And that’s where we met!”
Alysa and James married and a beautifully complex family was created.
“He took on me, my two daughters and our dog!” she says.
After the family was complete, Alysa left the probation field to go to law school.
“I figured I was already doing everything that the attorneys were doing,” explains Alysa, “so why not? I took a break from that, though, because school, taking care of a five-year old and an eight-year old and maintaining a part-time job in catering was a lot.”
But she didn’t rest long. Alysa found her way into the energy industry thanks to a connection from a friend. Alysa worked for Progress Energy for several years before she assumed her current role at Schneider Electric.
Throughout her career, Alysa never took off her apron. She catered events on the side in order to subsidize her income.
“James had a lot of political fund-raisers,” she says, “so I catered a lot of those functions. And then there are the weddings. I catered my own wedding and I catered my daughter’s wedding. Pretty sure I will be catering my youngest daughter’s wedding, too, seeing as though I will never be able to find another caterer to meet my standards!”
Cooking will always be Alysa’s passion.
“I love to cook,” she says. “And I cook a lot. My husband says that it always looks like I’m cooking for an army and it’s just me, him and our youngest daughter.”
Alysa’s habit of cooking large quantities comes from her childhood and follows through to adulthood.
“When our children were growing up, we always had a house full of children,” she explains. “Our house was the one where all the children knew Ms. Alysa was cooking and we would help them with their homework.”
Cooking for a Cause
The Walkers continued this charitable tradition in their home for years. Alysa and James have hosted children of various backgrounds with various needs.
“We had one child whose father was in prison,” recalls Alysa. “She was always welcomed to stay with us as she needed. To this day we are in contact with each other and she is preparing to graduate from a four-year college. We just welcomed kids to stay with us to sleep, eat, study, whatever they needed. To have fun, too. Those kids are my family.”
The Walkers’ generosity didn’t stop there. An idea stemmed from their desire to help youth and their daughter’s love for basketball.
“When Jordan, our youngest, was 10,” recalls Alysa, “we started a nonprofit group called Harnett Hoops, a traveling basketball team named after the county we lived in. We formed the group to help provide the girls with life skills, love and basketball fundamentals. James was our head coach and I wore several hats, but we had several fantastic parents assisting in our efforts, too.”
The AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) team was made up of high-quality players who were viewed as valuable recruits to major college teams.
“We took kids throughout North and South Carolina playing basketball,” says Alysa. “And that got expensive.”
The Walkers came up with an idea to raise money for the team. Alysa took the advice of a local man who told her to try a barbecue fund-raiser. The Harnett Hoops pre-sold tickets to the cookout, where the Walkers would prepare Boston butts and pork shoulders.
“With the pork shoulders, I needed a sauce,” says Alysa. “So I created one. And, over the years, sales on our pork shoulders grew from 52 to hundreds and hundreds. More and more people lined up every year.”
With fans of her sauce increasing and requests for the sauce to be bottled and sold, Alysa never lost sight of the original goal.
“We did this to help kids,” she says. “For our love of children and to keep them occupied.”
The Food Fairy Finds Shallotte
In 2004 the Walkers purchased a beach home in Ocean Isle Beach and began vacationing there every summer. The family intended on moving to the beach full time as soon as Jordan graduated high school. But the lure of the coast captured them sooner than they anticipated, and their plans changed.
“Jordan trained [volleyball] at West Brunswick [High School] each summer and ended up making a lot of friends,” says Alysa. “So we moved here early. And it’s been the best thing for all of us.”
The family relocated from Ocean Isle Beach to Shallotte in 2010.
“We love this community,” says Alysa. “This is my long lost family that I finally found.”
Jordan is now enrolled to attend UNC-W’s nursing program in the fall. James, who was serving as the varsity girls’ basketball coach at WBHS, retired from 25 years of coaching this year but still maintains his position as a social worker for Brunswick County Schools. And Alysa maintains a busy career in energy consulting, traveling throughout the week and cooking for others at every other waking moment.
“There’s a little boy at our church who calls me the food fairy,” Alysa says with a giggle, “because I cook food and just drop it on people’s doorsteps. See, I cook if I’m mad, if I’m bored and if I’m happy. My release for life is to cook. My love is cooking and my outlet is cooking. Everybody else benefits.”
The Walkers Win
For 12 years, Alysa’s husband (and many others) pleaded with her to share her sauce with the public in more ways than just a taste here and a container there. Alysa finally caved.
In October 2010 she entered her sauce into the State Fair against 44 contenders. Alysa swore that if she won a ribbon of any kind she would pursue bottling and selling her sauce.
On October 16 the Walkers found out that they took home the top prize at the State Fair. First place. On November 8, BeachWalkers, LLC was formed, the term coined by a combination of the couple’s last name and their passion for the coast.
Within just a matter of weeks, Alysa named the sauce and designed a package; located a kitchen for distribution; secured nutritional information, USDA approval and a UPC code; developed a website [ www.getsaucednc.com ] and became an official Goodness Grows partner.
On February 13, 2011, Get Sauced hit the shelves of its first grocery store, Hills Supermarket in Shallotte. In just four months [at the time of press], Alysa’s sauce is available in 40 locations throughout North and South Carolina.
“And we’ve shipped all the way to Oregon,” says a visibly amazed Alysa. “Now there are 12 stores in Texas that want our sauce. We added four new stores just last week. James is off this summer. Looks like he’ll be busy working for BeachWalkers, doesn’t it?”
When Alysa isn’t working her full-time job with Schneider Electric, she’s spending her weekends traveling for demonstrations and her evenings in the kitchen developing new product lines.
“We’re working on a new sauce and a new dry rub right now,” she says.
But she doesn’t do it alone. Alysa credits her family for making her dream a reality.
“James is a wonderful guy, my biggest fan,” says Alysa. “And he washes the dishes too. I make the mess and he cleans it up.”
“My family and friends help us with demonstrations and distribution,” she says. “And without all of their support and God’s hand in our decisions, this would all be just a dream.”
A dream that every barbecue-lover is glad came to fruition. The sauce, a perfect combination of sweet and spicy with a little kick, is a perfect representation of Alysa, according to her husband. And a perfect addition to any backyard barbecue.
“With food comes laughter,” says Alysa. “Good times are always centered around food.”
When asked what’s next for BeachWalkers, Alysa admits that she’s yet to let her love for catering fade away.
“My husband would kill me if he knew this,” she whispers, “but I’d love to, one day, open BeachWalkers Café. I have always loved catering. I’m just waiting to see what the Lord wants me to do. Right now, I think it’s Get Sauced.”