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Zest for Life : Psychologist Sioux Elledge of Laguna Niguel now reaches people with her Sioux Z Wow Gourmet Chile Sauce. Her recipe for a radical career change includes love and joy.

March 12, 1995|CARROLL LACHNIT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Just south of the $70 bottles of wine, west of the English bitter-orange tea and steps away from the fresh seafood sausage, Sioux Elledge of Laguna Niguel, former psychologist and current gourmet sauce maven, is waiting to share a taste of her dream.

Elledge, 44, red-haired, bubbly and wrapped in an apron embroidered with her name, greets the passing Saturday shoppers at the Manhattan Beach branch of Bristol Farms, a gourmet market chain. Those who linger more than a second before Elledge's display of Sioux Z Wow Gourmet Chile Sauce find themselves tasting it on grilled chicken or a cream-cheese appetizer.

Elledge, who once helped women jump-start their careers and crank up their self-esteem, seldom waits for a yes or no before offering a sample. If shoppers say they don't like anything too spicy, she assures them the chili-flecked, fat-free "Califoriental" sauce isn't. If they say they like their sauce with a kick, Elledge tells them Sioux Z Wow is the one for them.

"You invented this?" a woman asks, examining the bottle.

Elledge grins and nods. "That's my baby."

The $5.98 sauce that bears her name sits in more than 30 gourmet stores, restaurants and catering companies from San Juan Capistrano to South Pasadena. On this day, Elledge's demonstration will sell 72 bottles for Bristol Farms. The Sioux Z Wow company's January sales were 1,700 bottles. That's as many bottles as had sold since August, when the Elledges began selling in earnest.

But Sioux Z Wow is more than just a business to Elledge, who, along with her husband, Terry, has gambled nearly $30,000 on its success. The sauce is part of her life's transformation. And Elledge believes that with these 16-ounce bottles, she can touch more people than she could when she had a "couch shop."

The Elledges have throttled down a once-affluent lifestyle to support their business. Gone are the Friday-night sushi dinners and the $1,000 silk outfits Sioux bought to wear at her seminars. "Tar-jay," she said, giving the store name Target a Gallic inflection, "is my favorite little French boutique now."

The Elledges have one car and borrow another from Terry's mother when necessary. Terry Elledge works part time as a management consultant, and the couple put as much of that money as possible back into Sioux Z Wow.

"It feels to me sometimes like I've given up consumerism completely," Sioux Elledge said. "My life has just simplified. My attention, my focus, is elsewhere, not on acquisition. And I don't mind."

Career switches such as Sioux Elledge's are happening more often in the United States, management experts said. While many people are pushed into new careers by corporate downsizing, some make changes because they want to. They're not necessarily looking for more money, but for more time and control over their lives or a greater sense of accomplishment in the work they do, said Charles Sterling, assistant professor of management at Chapman University in Orange.

"People are realizing greater options than they ever had in the past," Sterling said. "It's a general reflection of our lifestyle in America. Change is OK. We shouldn't lock ourselves into anything because we think that's what we have to do. It's more socially acceptable now to say, 'I've spent 15 years in this career; I think there are parts of me that are unfulfilled.' People simply have to be the greatest judge of what's right for them."

Elledge isn't the first counselor to find a new career in the kitchen. Seventeen years ago, Dr. Rich Davis, a Kansas City, Kan.-based child-and-family psychiatrist, started marketing his KC Masterpiece barbecue and grilling sauce.

After two years of juggling medicine and sauce, he gave up his practice to devote himself solely to the product. Now KC is one of the top-selling premium barbecue sauces in the country, Davis said. He sold KC Masterpiece to the Kingsford division of the Clorox Co. in 1986 and now devotes his time to the four KC Masterpiece barbecue restaurants in the Midwest he has opened with his sons.

Davis, who has a contract with Clorox that bars him from offering specific advice about making and marketing sauce, wouldn't draw comparisons between the success of his enterprise and the Elledges' at the seven-month mark. But he said every bottle the Elledges sell in the highly competitive sauce world is a victory for them.

"It's exactly where you have to start," he said. "You sell a bottle. You sell a case. You sell to two stores, to 20 stores."

Davis, 68, has framed a written telephone message to commemorate the company's breakthrough: KC's first 1,000-case order.

"And from that, we just began to grow," he said. "It's hard work. You have to have confidence, not give up. Every time you get knocked down, you get up, go sideways and come back on 'em. I encourage people to go for it. Have your dreams and try to make them happen."

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