Lloyd Ross of Oakland Dust. Photo: Alix Wall
Lloyd Ross of Oakland Dust in his office in Berkeley. Photo: Alix Wall

If you grew up in the East Bay in the 1970s, chances are you may remember Flint’s BBQ, a legendary take-out spot on Shattuck Avenue just beyond the Berkeley border that usually had a line of people waiting for their links, ribs or brisket, with several slices of Wonder Bread to mop up the sauce.

Lloyd Ross is one of those who remembers it fondly.

In his house, Flint’s was a Sunday tradition. He’d go with his dad to pick up barbecue. “By the time we made it home, half the links would be gone and my lips would be on fire,” he recalled fondly. “This is where my love affair with pork and all foods began.”

Ross, who was born and bred in Oakland, still lives here today. And he’s the creator of a new spice rub for meat, poultry and seafood proudly bearing his city’s name, Oakland Dust. “I created Oakland Dust for my love of food and for the city I proudly call home,” he said.

Ross ran a number of Bay Area restaurants, including Manhattan Bagels, until he briefly went into the tech world. Always an avid home cook and barbecuer, he began smoking his own meat about five years ago. He put so much effort into coming up with the spice combinations for his barbecue that he decided to make a business out of it. From there, Oakland Dust was born.

Flint’s pork ribs were Ross’s first love, so a pork rub came first. Ross researched ingredients in other rubs before hitting on his perfect recipe: brown sugar, kosher salt, garlic, smoked paprika, rosemary and chili.

“I tried about 10 different recipes for pork until I got it just right,” he said. Ross designed the rub for pulled pork, but says it works well with ribs and chops as well. He is always tinkering, though, and will soon be making some minor changes to the recipe. “But very minor,” he promised.

Poultry rub from Oakland Dust. Photo: Alix Wall
Ross’s poultry rub includes the herbs sage, rosemary, and thyme. Photo: Alix Wall
Ross’s poultry rub includes the herbs sage, rosemary, and thyme. Photo: Alix Wall

Once he was happy with his pork rub, Ross developed variations for poultry, seafood and steak, as well as a chili lime blend that is good on just about everything, he said. He puts the chili lime rub on roasted vegetables, and even sprinkles it on rice or pasta for his kids. (The chili is not spicy.)

The steak rub, on the other hand, is the spiciest of the lot, blended with both chipotle and ancho chiles. The poultry rub contains classic herbs like sage, rosemary and thyme, while the seafood includes lots of citrus.

And Ross is thinking about adding a sixth blend to the lineup, perhaps a more vegetarian-friendly blend like curry. “I’d like to have a sixth one that rotates quarterly and keep five the same,” he said.

While at first he did his all his blending himself, Ross began using a spice company to blend for him “in order to have consistency. They do all my proprietary blends now, and they got it spot on. They do a couple hundred pounds of each blend at a time,” he said. A co-packer in Burlingame then fills his tins, “a lot of the time with my help,” he said.

Ross has a small office in Berkeley where he puts the labels on himself and seals the tins, and he makes all deliveries himself.

Ross labels each jar himself. Photo: Alix Wall
Ross labels each jar himself. Photo: Alix Wall

Oakland Dust rubs aren’t organic — the cost and labor-intensive washing steps involved were both prohibitive — but they are GMO-free. A tin of Oakland Dust retails between $6.99 and $7.99.

Ross is already selling over 100 cases (about 1200 units) a month in 36 Bay Area locations, an impressive number given that the company was only founded last June. Customers clearly like the Oakland label.

While first he began selling in independent grocers, Ross now has Oakland Dust in about 15 Safeway stores as well. The giant retailer’s new emphasis on local products has helped him make headway.

“I love working with the independents though,” he says, “because I like to get to know the butchers and the guys behind the counter.” Ross believes that his personal relationships with local butchers help him sell the product. “When the butchers like my blends, then I’ve got people on the street selling for me in a natural way.”

Ross is maxed out at the moment in terms of how much he himself can deliver but he hopes to keep growing in a manner he can handle.

“The blend of spices is great,” he said, and “people love the flavors. It’s a local product that people can identify with. I also try to get out there as much as possible through Instagram and post a lot of my own recipes.”

He added, “When you start a business, you just have to go for it. You can’t just stop, as no one is going to do it for you. You just kind of go, go, go.”

Fish rub from Oakland Dust. Photo: Alix Wall
The seafood rub gets its tang from a burst of citrus. Photo: Alix Wall

We tried Oakland Dust’s steak, chicken and chili lime rubs. While we don’t typically use rubs in our cooking, we found the flavors fantastic. Each did what a good rub should do; they enhanced the natural flavors of each protein without overpowering it.

We grilled a piece of chicken with the poultry rub and a piece of steak with the steak rub. We then spritzed a bit of lemon juice on the chicken, as Ross recommends. We found none of the rubs too in-your-face, and the poultry rub in particular had beautiful herbaceous notes. We tried the chili lime on both a piece of fish and pieces of roasted celery root, and we thoroughly enjoyed the citrus-chili balance.

While the poultry rub was our favorite of those three, we later discovered a new use for the chili lime rub: on popcorn.

Find Oakland Dust here. Connect with the company on Facebook and Instagram.

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Alix Wall is an Oakland-based freelance writer. She is contributing editor of J., The Jewish News of Northern California, for which she has a food column and writes other features. In addition to Berkeleyside’s...