Charles Jones, one half of the husband-and-wife duo behind the award-winning Capital City Mambo Sauce, passed away Friday, Oct. 11, according to his wife and business partner, Arsha. Jones was accompanying his high-school-aged son on a campus tour of Georgia State University when he had a heart attack, Arsha says. He was 46.
Arsha says that while she was the more outspoken and marketing-minded business partner (her background is in SEO and web development), Jones was the one behind the scenes keeping the business going.
“When people normally see the company, they see me,” she says. “And it’s really only because I was standing on his shoulders. He was always very nervous talking to news media and being on camera. But when it was talking to customers one-on-one, he was the one who was front and center. He was actually the social butterfly of the family. He was the one that wanted to go to all these events and talk to people.” Arsha describes Jones as “very soft, like a big bear. Because of his deep voice and physique, he gives the impression that he’s a certain kind of way. But he’s very warm and welcoming.”
Jones grew up in Prince George’s County and enlisted in the Army before starting a career in project management. His logistics background proved useful when the Joneses decided to start a business out of their Annapolis home in May 2011, bottling sauce in their kitchen and selling it to customers at Eastern Market.
Arsha, a DC native, says she modeled the flavor after sauces she knew from local staples like Jerry’s Carry Out. They partnered with a few local mom-and-pop stores and small businesses before gaining widespread attention. New York has its pizza, Philly has its Cheesesteaks, and DC has half smokes and mambo sauce. With its eye-catching packaging and clever online marketing, Capital City is the city’s most prominent commercially available mambo sauce. Arsha says she and Jones hoped to spread the sauce nationally.
Jones lived to see that dream start to come true. Just two months after they launched the business, the couple woke to a Sunday edition of the Washington Post with their faces on the front page—and 1,400 orders overnight. Though they were largely unprepared for such demand, making just one bottle at a time from a single pot, they took time off from their day jobs to send out all of the sauce. “We were determined to get every order out, even if it took us two weeks,” Arsha says.
Today, the company brings in $2 million in annual sales, as their bottles of “mild” and “sweet hot” sauce have landed on shelves at Walmart, Giant, and Papa John’s, among others. While they gained popularity, the Joneses fought a court battle with Chicago company Select Brands, which had already trademarked mumbo (with a “u”). The two parties came to an agreement, Arsha says, and Capital City changed their product to mambo (with an “a”).
“We moved forward and said, we won’t worry about m-u-m-b-o, because at the end of the day, the people love what’s in the bottle,” she says. “As long as they can get it and it tastes like what they remember, that’s what’s most important.”
For the past eight years, the Joneses have tried to market the sauce in a way that pays tribute to the black communities where the sweet, tangy sauce originated, while also being marketable to the entire region. Arsha plans to continue that work: “Business doesn’t stop. We have payroll and deliveries going out this week.”
But she also knows that Charles would want her to take care of herself. “He was a take-time-for-himself type of guy. He would drink a beer, go to the bar, and watch football,” she says. “And he would make sure that I did the same.”
Survivors include Arsha and their four sons: Houston, 17, Christian, 14, Cameron, 11, and Caine, 8. Details are still in the works for a memorial service.
This story has been updated to reflect Jones’s correct age at the time of his death.