Preserving Mambo Sauce is personal for Arsha Jones. The Capital City Mambo Sauce founder of the official wing sauce of Washington D.C., created the company in 2011 alongside her late husband Charles after having trouble finding the sauce when the couple moved from the city to the suburbs. Now, the sweet, spicy, and tangy chicken wing sauce can be found in more than 3,000 stores nationwide due to their efforts.
“I would make mambo sauce in my own kitchen for my sons and one day decided that this deserved to go to market, for others outside of DC to experience,” Jones told Because Of Them We Can. “The inspiration has to do with the joy I felt from sharing mambo sauce with my own family, but also the entrepreneurial bug that has been in me for a long time and, of course, the support of my late husband. All these factors and my own personal connection made for a recipe for success.”
Last year, Capital City’s mambo sauce expanded to KFC restaurants, reaching even more consumers. Now, Jones has partnered with McDonald’s for a “The Love of Mambo” documentary to celebrate one of the newest additions to its sauce lineup.
“I believe that food brings us together,” Jones added. “This [McDonald’s] partnership allows people from across the United States to have visibility into Washington, D.C., and the culture we have here. It’s a great thing. Mambo sauce will create a lot of conversation, but that conversation stems from an emotional connection to this. What you have is people who just love not only this sauce but where they were born and raised. Even though this is a sauce that we’re talking about, we’re also indirectly talking about a community of people. I’m hoping that those people and their voices and their opinions don’t get lost in this conversation because it’s really about them,” said Jones.
She also stressed the importance of preserving the legacy of the sauce and looking at it as an extension of native Washingtonians and their culture.
“It has such a connection to the community because it was part of the subculture of our area for so long. I’ve said this many times, on many different platforms, that this sauce is a legacy. It’s a legacy of our culture, of our community. And as the demographics of Washington, D.C., start to change, people are finding it even more important to hold near and dear to their hearts what was an original product from Washington, D.C. — and, honestly, I love it,” she added.
Mambo sauce originated in D.C. kitchens in the 1950s, later becoming a cultural staple in Black D.C. food culture. While there is some argument among food scholars on whether it belongs to D.C. or Chicago, the nation’s capital most definitely popularized it during the 1970s and 80s when Chinese and Korean carriers began selling the sauce in their restaurants. Capital City Mambo Sauce started small as a way to preserve the D.C. staple. The company began by serving local shops and chains like Murray’s but grew to serve larger stores like Target, Walmart, Amazon, Wegman’s, Safeway, Harris Teeter, Shoppers, Giant, The Fresh Market, and Food Lion. Capital City also has partnerships with Papa John’s, KFC, Washington Nationals, Monumental Sports, Orioles, CFG Bank Arena, and most recently, the Washington Commanders.
“You see, mambo sauce isn’t just a condiment; it’s a part of the cultural fabric of Washington D.C.,” Jones continued. “It’s a taste of home, a source of comfort, and a symbol of community for so many Washingtonians. Growing up in D.C., mambo sauce was always there, adding flavor to our meals and bringing people together. So, upholding the legacy of mambo sauce in D.C. and beyond is my way of preserving the traditions and flavors that make this city so unique. It’s about celebrating the sense of community and connection that mambo sauce represents. This legacy is not just important to me; it’s important to our entire community, and I’m honored to play a part in keeping it alive for generations to come.”
Capital City is determined to continue celebrating the roots of mambo sauce and its ties and impact on the Black community in D.C. while making it accessible and appreciated by people of all backgrounds. Jones’ late husband, Charles, played a pivotal role in building the brand by connecting with customers one-on-one and sharing the warmth and welcoming spirit that defines the Jones family and their sauce.
“We want people to remember us not just for our product but for the genuine passion and love we have for our community and its flavors,” Jones said. “Our journey has been about bridging cultures and sharing a taste of DC’s vibrant culinary identity with the world. And even in the face of challenges, like the loss of Charles, our commitment to our business and community remains unwavering, and we hope that it does not go unnoticed.”
Cover photo: Capital City Founder Arsha Jones Is on a Mission to Safeguard D.C.’s Beloved Mambo Sauce/Photo courtesy of Capital City Mambo Sauce