He ranks among the more familiar faces and voices in Charlotte sports. He’s familiar enough that it’s causing double takes at Fort Mill’s new liquor store.
“I just think people don’t expect to see a guy sitting behind the counter ringing them up with a bottle of booze, being a guy they used to watch on TV for 20-plus years,” said long-time broadcaster turned entrepreneur Chuck Howard.
Howard opened Sauce Monkey Spirits on Feb. 5 in Springfield Town Center. He calls it an upscale liquor store, behind Harris Teeter. The traffic getting to similar stores near Interstate 77 helped him to make the decision.
“I’ve had hair-brained ideas off and on over the years, just never pulled the trigger,” Howard said. “Many of us have an entrepreneurial spirit and the biggest thing and the toughest thing is to just finally pull the trigger and take that dive.”
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In some ways, he expects the liquor store to differ a good bit from broadcasting. In others, he doesn’t.
“I like to say I’ve worked for a lot of idiots over the years,” joked the now self-employed Howard, “and so now I work for the biggest idiot I know.”
Howard was smart enough to graduate from SUNY Fredonia in western New York. Smart enough to realize math wouldn’t be his ticket, which gravitated him toward journalism. Growing up on a dairy farm 60 miles south of Buffalo, Howard realized where broadcasting could take him.
“I knew I didn’t want to throw hay bales and shovel manure all my life,” he said.
A four-sport athlete in high school who knew he wasn’t going to play Division 1 football, Howard started announcing in high school. Howard worked for CBS affiliates in Erie and Scranton, Pa., before reaching his then lifelong goal of covering sports in Buffalo. In five years there, Howard covered four straight Super Bowl appearances by the Buffalo Bills.
He also covered NASCAR, a rarity in that part of New York. In 1995, he heard about an opening in Charlotte. A year later, he was at WCNC as sports director until 2006. He then spent four years working for NASCAR, three more with the Carolina Panthers TV network and a couple more at the FOX affiliate in Charlotte. He also hosted or filled in for shows on WFNZ radio.
Howard’s run in sports media spanned the full existence of the Panthers, from their first season at Clemson University. He was at Daytona in 2001 when Dale Earnhardt crashed and died. Howard was around when the Charlotte Hornets left and the Charlotte Bobcats arrived, then became the Hornets again.
Howard also hit some bumps. Last summer The Charlotte Observer reported that Howard had been terminated from Fox 46 following a conflict there. And in 2006 The Observer reported that Howard had been fired from WCNC, the local NBC affiliate, after he used a mild expletive when a promo he was filming didn’t turn out the way he wanted.
What many who followed Howard’s career may not realize is how connected he is to York County. And not just for the first Panthers training camp at Winthrop University.
Howard and wife Karen moved to Charlotte in 1995 and were renting an apartment. She discovered a cool little town just south of the state line, he said. Back then, the I-77 exit at Carowinds to Regent Park didn’t have a traffic signal. There were pastures near their Regent Park house, where they built a dream home on a golf course.
The golf course gone and living next to a lot more neighbors, Howard says Fort Mill hasn’t lost its small-town feel.
“Unfortunately the word has gotten out,” he said. “I say unfortunately. It’s a double-edged sword. Because it’s exciting to know that many of us knew what was here and what potentially could happen.”
Plus, he said, the taxes are better in York County. That sort of math he can do, and it’s what he’ll lean on to run a business that’s already tested him on inventory, permitting and licensing, not to mention retail roles like working with a landlord.
“We all take retail store owners for granted, not realizing how much goes into it,” Howard said.
Howard said he needed a shift from broadcasting.
“I wasn’t feeling challenged,” he said. “I’ve been doing it so long, I could do stuff with my eyes closed. My brain was telling me I needed a challenge and, let me tell you, I’ve got a challenge.”
The shop, less than 2 miles from his home, has already needed a refill order sooner than expected. Distributors told him they were surprised how many customers came out opening weekend.
With so many new people to the area, it’s been a mix of people who recognize the sportscaster.
“Half the people know who I am and half the people don’t,” he said.
Customers who do recognize him may get an opinion or two out of him about the Panthers, quarterback Cam Newton and other sports. He has opinions on the changing landscape of sports broadcasting compared to when he started.
“Folks wanted to hear your true, honest opinion,” Howard said. “And that was one thing that helped build my popularity is that, I didn’t mind mincing words.”
Now there are hot takes, programs set up with opposing sides who “sit there and bicker,” Howard said. Howard talks about his career in sports as someone who recognizes change comes. So he changes, too.
“I knew the broadcasting thing wasn’t going to last forever,” he said. “Especially in this day and age you can watch TV and you can see that, 54 is now old for a lot of television stations. Just wanted something that could take us into our 60s and into retirement and just have the satisfaction and gratification of a business that was simply our own.”
What’s a “Sauce Monkey?”
It’s probably the most common question he’s heard: Why the name?
“We wanted to do something that was fun,” Howard said. “We didn’t want to just call it Springfield ABC store.”
The phrase “sauce monkey” dates back to 1986. Howard and his buddies called a beer or drink a sauce.
“There was one evening when I had been served too many sauces, and let’s just say I was having equilibrium problems,” Howard said. “And so Tommy then said ‘Chuck, you look like a sauce monkey.’ And so it kind of stuck after that.”
Howard named three boats some variation of Sauce Monkey.
“We like to think of a sauce monkey is almost a way of life,” he said. “People that just enjoy life, like to enjoy a spirit and just have a good time. So a lot of folks out there are actually sauce monkeys and didn’t even realize it.”