The Story Behind Judge Casey and the Famous Family Recipe
How Judge Casey's Irish Ketchup was born on a motorbiking trip from Argentina to Alaska
September 29, 2021
Grace Simmons
Stephen Bray (left) and Peadar Casey (right) and the Judge Casey's pink-paneled Ford F100

In 2007 two college friends, Peadar Casey and Stephen Bray, embarked on a 6 month motorbiking trip from the south most tip of Argentina to Alaska. Near the start of their journey they were invited to a BBQ in Argentina and were asked to bring something to the potluck. They wanted to bring a sauce to go with the meat, they knew there would be chimichurri there, so Peadar decided to make his family’s recipe for Irish tomato relish — what is now known as Judge Casey’s Famously Thick Ketchup. 

Stephen (left) and Peadar (right) on their motorbike trip

The tomato sauce was a hit and the two continued to make it along the road on their trip, sharing it with those they met along the way. After the trip, Stephen returned to Ireland and Peadar moved to San Francisco where he began his journey to commercialize his family recipe. Stephen later joined him in San Francisco to help Peadar start and run the company.

Judge Casey’s Ketchup got its name from Peadar’s great grand uncle Judge Jeremiah Casey who immigrated to the Bay Area in 1873. 

“Peadar was toying around with a number of different names early on,” said Stephen. “Then he was discussing it with me and said, ‘well there’s also Judge Casey, my famous — famous in a family and Irish community sense — great grand uncle who immigrated to the Bay Area.’”

When Jeremiah Casey first arrived in the Bay he worked as a shoe-shine, then moved to the countryside working as a farm aid. He saved up some money and bought the Ferry Exchange Hotel in Port Costa and opened his own saloon. A well-known businessman, philanthropist, and self-taught student of law, he became a respected Judge.

Judge Jeremiah Casey

“He was an interesting character, there are loads of cool stories that we’ve unearthed from old newspapers back in the day that showed him to be a real character,” said Stephen. “There’s a kinship with the kind of character that he was, a bit of an entrepreneur himself. He came to America with nothing — I can’t say that we came quite as impoverished as him, but…”

Peadar and Stephen wanted to emulate the same entrepreneurial success as Judge Casey and felt a kinship to his journey from Ireland to the Bay Area. 

“We are truly original, our ketchup,” said Stephen. “We say it’s famously thick, it’s got a lot more character and texture to it so it’s not just gelatinous, monotonous, it’s got texture, it’s got that home-style feel. That speaks true to the home-style nature of the original recipe, Peadar was trying to keep it as close to that as possible.”

Judge Casey’s has a lot of unique ingredients not found in other ketchups, like raisin puree for natural sweetness, sun-dried tomatoes for a richer depth of tomato flavor, and pureed onions instead of onion powder.

“We’ve had people say it has similarities to a BBQ sauce,” said Stephen. “ It’s ketchup in name, almost only.”

But Judge Casey’s isn’t actually ketchup…

“This recipe to us in Ireland is a tomato relish,” said Stephen. “That is what we originally marketed it as, but in the first couple of years people were just so fixated on the fact that relish is pickles, and we couldn’t overcome it.”

In the United States, when one thinks of relish, pickles come to mind. Whereas in Ireland, and other countries, there are more commonly used kinds of relish. Tomato relish is similar to ketchup — they both have a tomato puree base with vinegar and spices. 

“It didn’t click with people [in the U.S.], people just had questions and confusion and that’s where we changed the name to ‘Our Famously Thick Ketchup,’” said Stephen.

But regardless of the name, Judge Casey’s is a widely loved, next-level condiment. It was very important to Peadar that the sauce be all natural with clean and simple ingredients.

“All natural, vegan, gluten-free, if you read the ingredients on the back there’s nothing that you wouldn’t recognize,” said Stephen. “No crazy chemicals or preservatives, the only preservative is vinegar.” 

In addition to the original recipe, they have two newer flavors — Habanero, and Curry Ketchup.

“The Curry Ketchup is really vibrant, we source our custom curry blend by a spice lady in Burlingame,” said Stephen. “We know all the spices are fresh every time we get a batch.”

Judge Casey’s is the perfect condiment to go with fries, burger, hot dogs — wherever you’d use ketchup. But Stephen uses it in far more applications.

“Another way to use them is as a marinade because they are so flavorful,” said Stephen. “I’m always marinating meat. If I’m doing grilled chicken, I like marinating that in the curry [ketchup].”

He likes the Habanero on eggs in the morning, too. He also uses the Original in Meatloaf and Irish Meatballs with Whiskey BBQ Sauce, you can get the recipes on their site.

Shop Judge Casey’s Famously Thick Ketchup.

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