Cowboy Syd's D'Lish Sauce: If you Climb in the Saddle, Be Ready to Ride!

by Justin Ayars, JD

In the 1980s and 1990s, Syd opened two restaurants in Norfolk, both called the Dumbwaiter Bistro. The first Dumbwaiter was located on College Place and, when he closed that location, he reopened the Dumbwaiter on Tazwell Street. The Dumbwaiter was so popular that locals still talk about it—even though the second location closed almost 20 years ago! “During the Dumbwaiter days,” as Syd calls those years, “I started incorporating more ingredients to make a single all-purpose sauce.” When asked more about how he continued to develop his sauce, Syd smiles and says, “I would tell you more, but it’s a very secret agent recipe.” He did divulge that he called the new sauce “ketchup vinaigrette.” Syd explains, “I created it to get people who wanted ketchup on their tables away from wanting ketchup. I gave them a more sophisticated sauce and they liked it. They even told me I should bottle it!”

After closing the second location of the Dumbwaiter in 1999, Syd taught baking and pastry classes at Johnson & Wales University in Norfolk and conducted a private catering business. Mourning the loss of the Dumbwaiter, Syd’s fiercely loyal customer base in the region were clamoring for him to open another restaurant. In 2003, Syd opened up Cowboy Syd’s Restaurant in Port Warwick, Newport News. By that time, Syd says, “I really got close to getting my sauce to the point where I could say ‘Oh, my god… EUREKA!’” But, Syd felt that there was still something missing from the recipe.

In 2006, Syd left his restaurant in Newport News to open Stove, The Restaurant in Port Norfolk, Portsmouth. For the past 11 years, Syd has been creating dishes at Stove for his secret sauce, which he has continued to perfect. “There were a couple of ingredients I took out and three or four more I added, and I got the balance just right. Finally, it was perfect.” Syd began talking to manufacturers and in 2014 found one who would manufacture his sauce in small batches.


D’Lish Sauce is a wholly hand-made product. Syd grows all of the produce for it on local farms, including in his own backyard, which is across the street from Stove. Syd describes D’Lish as very complex with many subtle nuances and a little bit of spice. One of those subtle nuances is a lovely smoked tomato flavor. Syd explains that his team smokes the hand-picked tomatoes in-house with real smoke. The sauce has no preservatives and has a two-year shelf life. It’s recommended that you refrigerate it after opening, but he says you really don’t have to. “We never refrigerated things in the old days and none of us died.”

Syd is involved in the entire lifecycle of his sauce. “I do all the food prep, take it down to the manufacturer, help them cook it down, puree it and bottle it. Then I load it all up, bring it back here and hand-dip every bottle with a wax coated top.” After admiring a bottle of sauce sitting in front of me, I can honestly say that Syd is right when he proclaims, “The packaging is very beautiful and sophisticated.”

Syd uses his D’Lish sauce in many dishes at Stove, including pork-o-rama, meatloaf, rockfish and his dried, aged beef (which is dried and aged in-house, of course). Stove also has a cozy, eight-seat bar called “The Cougar Lounge” where bar patrons are watched over by a multitude of mounted game, including buffalo, antelope and wildcats. When asked if he uses D’Lish sauce in any cocktails, Syd jokes, “Do you mean sexually or the drinkable type? I mean, oh, yes! We use it in our Bloody Mary mix and in a whiskey drink called Syd’s Knees.”

Just like his grandmother Winnie shared her southern recipes with him back in Mississippi, Syd is on a mission to share his sauce with the world. In addition to seeking out new vendors to carry his sauce, Syd posts recipes that use D’Lish on Stove’s website, It’s taken 40 years, but Syd has finally perfected his secret sauce. According to the Bible, after Moses received the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, he and the Israelites wandered the desert for 40 years. Although Syd’s sauce took a biblical length of time to create, once you try it your taste buds will be transported the Promised Land!

Cowboy Syd’s D’Lish Sauce makes the perfect holiday gift. Be sure to buy some as a stocking stuffer (and for yourself):

In 2006, Syd left his restaurant in Newport News to open Stove, The Restaurant in Port Norfolk, Portsmouth. For the past nine

Stove, The Restaurant
2622 Detroit Street
Port Norfolk
Portsmouth, VA 23707
Twitter: @StoveRestaurant
Instagram: @StovePONO