When my colleague’s piece on fry sauce ran a month ago, we thought the question “Who invented fry sauce?” was impenetrable, left to be debated in the annals of Utah lore for millennia to come. But the cold case of Utah’s favorite room-temperature sauce warmed right up in the weeks that followed. In our hour of despair, one holder of lost memories broke the mystery wide open. His name — Rick Edwards.
“You know what I tell everyone when they ask?” Rick queries me rhetorically over the phone, “I tell ’em anybody can mix ketchup and mayo together to make fry sauce, but not anyone can make the real McCoy!” The real McCoy, in this case, is Arctic Circle’s fry sauce, the firstborn of all sauce children.
Marketing professionals, Argentinian Nobel laureates and restaurant rivals have attempted to systematically dismantle the history of fry sauce over the years. Lucky for the uncredentialed history crack team at the Deseret, Rick has spent years piecing together the true story and has the bonafides to back it up.
Rick is the only biological grandson of Don Carlos Edwards and Minnie Edwards, the founders of the Arctic Circle empire. He now runs an HVAC company in California, but his excitement talking ductwork pales in comparison to his passionate discourse on all things Arctic Circle.
He can tell you about the time a franchise in Grand Junction, Colorado, sold 5,700 burgers in a day. He can walk you through the evolutions of the franchise’s cowboy adjacent mascot, Acey Bird. He can cite the obscure menu items that were canceled 20 years ago.
With a Facebook community 2,500 friends strong, his account “Don Carlos Arctic Circle” has allowed him to collect memorabilia from all over the West, and share his findings with an interested audience. The group is more than just an excuse to assuage nostalgia, however. For Rick, keeping the Arctic Circle history alive is a personal matter.
When he was 8 years old, Rick received a watch with the Acey Bird mascot from his father, months before his parents’ divorce. Until he was 25, his father remained absent from his life, and the watch was the only reminder of a time when his family was together.
“I tell ’em anybody can mix ketchup and mayo together to make fry sauce, but not anyone can make the real McCoy!”
Rick and his mother went through a difficult period, moving over 20 times until Rick left home at 19. He carried the watch between every rental and still has it 50 years later. It was when Rick reconnected with his father in his 20s, and they bonded over stories of the family, that Rick was motivated to become the Edwards’ unofficial historian.
Some fill their basements with collector train sets or musty work-out equipment. Rick, on the other hand, has constructed a basement museum of Arctic Circle “Arct-ifacts,” going to impressive lengths to acquire pieces of the company’s history.
He found Acey Bird’s original manufacturer and brought the costume designer out of retirement for one … last … job. Rick tracked down the original blueprints for his favorite 7-foot-tall rotating neon sign and commissioned a replica that now graces his wall.
Via the internet’s backroads and bosky byways, Rick came upon our original fry sauce reporting and understood he was perfectly positioned as a niche archivist to help get the story right. From his catalog of evidence and the connections he helped us make, we were able to recreate the timeline of fry sauce, tracing its glorious rise from conception to now.
It all started in 1941 when Don Carlos Edwards opened his first restaurant, The Don Carlos Bar Be Q, on Main Street in the heart of Salt Lake City. It was an exciting transition from a carnival food cart to a brick-and-mortar establishment, serving burgers, pork, veal, turkey and chicken sandwiches. He built his client base using a super-secret mayo-based white sauce, a sauce that can still be found on the Arctic Circle Ranch Burger 80 years later.
Edwards opened the first Arctic Circle location in 1950, just off State Street. In the following years, the Edwardses would recruit family and friends, most members of their local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints community, to open additional franchise locations.
Ellis Peay and company opened a Provo location in 1955. Ron Taylor, a family friend, manned the night shift with Ellis’ son Max. That winter, the boys were itching for something to do on an especially slow night. They had always been allowed to experiment as they worked, so they started synthesizing sauce combinations from liquids they found in the kitchen. When the dust settled the boys had before them a sauce that was two parts mayo and one part ketchup.
The way an understated Taylor tells it, after tasting their concoction for the first time, they said to themselves: “boy that’s pretty good.” As time went on, they began sharing that ketchup mayo combo with friends and customers. It wasn’t long until customers started asking for it.
Stan and Sarah Taylor, Ron’s parents, purchased that Arctic Circle from the Peays in 1957. The name was changed to Stan’s Arctic Circle Drive-In, and they were exclusively serving the Ron and Max sauce of the previous winter as a fry dip. Don Edwards’ proprietary white sauce was still used on all burgers.
During a regular inspection, an Arctic Circle rep from the corporate office tasted the sauce and asked to bring it back to headquarters. That was the last the Taylors heard of their experiment for a while.
But Don Carlos, back at HQ, tasted and approved of the concoction, encouraging all franchisees to mix it up for their restaurants. This created extra work for employees. They were mixing up the super-secret mayo-based sauce for the burgers, and another mayo and ketchup batch for the fries.
The Grofts started one of the company’s first franchises in 1952 on North Temple. In 1954 they decided to pack up and move to Las Vegas. In Nevada Archie Groft was free to get creative with little oversight from a very particular Don Carlos. Lance Groft, Archie’s son, said “Dad was always a rebel. He did things his own way.”
To cut down on workload, Archie and his brother-in-law Howard Jensen decided to mix ketchup with the secret white sauce, forgoing plain mayo and avoiding the hassle of mixing two separate sauces. The sauce was so addictive, that they used it on burgers and as fry dip, and bottled it to sell by the pint.
“Without Ron, fry sauce never would have happened.”
In 1958, Don Edwards and the other location owners gathered in Las Vegas for the annual company retreat. Edwards caught wind of Groft adulterating his special sauce and stormed into Archie’s kitchen to catch him in the act.
Archie’s wife Naomi, now 92 years old, recalls Don Carlos being hot under the collar that day. Martha Sedlymer, also 92 years old, was an employee at that time. She confirmed Naomi’s memory: Edwards, though upset his recipe was being tampered with, was so impressed by the sauce he transitioned all franchises over to it as fast as he could manage.
“It’s been a bigger deal than I could have ever imagined,” Ron Taylor said. “A few years ago, we went to an old mountain town clear up in Washington. Dag gum they had fry sauce!”
Rick Edwards traveled out to Las Vegas a few years ago to pick up some Arctic Circle memorabilia. He met with Naomi and Lance Groft. They swapped stories and laughed at memories of the restaurant.
He reached out to Ron Taylor, to compare notes about the phenomenon birthed from that Arctic Circle in Provo. In 1967, Stan’s Arctic Circle Drive-In went independent, becoming Stan’s Drive-In. Stan Taylor was a much-beloved local figure, who remained active in Provo up until his death in 2016.
Ron Taylor told me “The basis has always been that simple Max and Ron fry sauce.” He has been largely left out of the story, but his late-night experiments as a boy created the need for Archie to speed up production, leading to the collision of the Edwards’ secret white sauce with ketchup. Rick Edwards said, “Without Ron, fry sauce never would have happened.”
Rick guards the secret recipe for the original fry sauce. He makes it from time to time for his buddies in California where he lives. To do it right, he bought a 5-gallon bucket of Hellman’s commercial-grade mayo. He says “it has a higher amount of something, maybe egg. It’s definitely better.”
Fry sauce has spread like wildfire through the west since the first spark 70 years ago. It's a mandatory schmear for Utah restaurants selling crispy bits or animal butties. I even saw a taco truck the other day with squeeze tubes of salsa de fritadas.
Don Carlos would have liked this, I thought to myself, though I don’t know his opinion on Mexican food. I would like this, I remembered and doled out some crinkled bills for a saucy torta ahogada.
You can hear the pride in the voices of those who had a little part in the sauce’s creation. And though the details become hazier as the years roll by, fry sauce keeps getting better with age.*
*Please refrigerate your Fry sauce