Gene Porter was the man behind "The Man. " "The Man" was Mr. Porter's own secret hot sauce, and at lunchtime Mr. Porter would work his way...

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Gene Porter was the man behind “The Man.”

“The Man” was Mr. Porter’s own secret hot sauce, and at lunchtime Mr. Porter would work his way through the tables of his crowded barbecue restaurant, challenging customers to try a tiny dab of the fiercely hot liquid on a toothpick.

Mr. Porter, 71, the owner of Dixie’s BBQ in Bellevue, died Sunday of cancer.

“The Man” hot sauce is legendary, and under Mr. Porter’s hand, Dixie’s barbecue has become a Bellevue institution since it opened 16 years ago — one that has fed hundreds of people for lunch every day in a converted auto mechanic’s shop. For many years, it was considered one of the best barbecue places in the Greater Seattle area.

The restaurant crowd is often standing-room-only, and people have come from all over the world — CEOs from big companies on visits to the Eastside, as well as movie stars like Bill Cosby and sports heroes like basketball great Lenny Wilkens and hydroplane racer Chip Hanauer, said Mr. Porter’s daughter, L.J. Porter. At various times through the years, the restaurant had served barbecue to practically everyone on the Sonics, Mariners and Seahawks teams, she said.

“People come in from all over the world to try that ‘man’ sauce,” L.J. Porter said. “They come in to get beat up. It’s pretty crazy.”

Those who dared to taste “The Man” often walked out with bumper stickers to advertise their courage: “I met ‘The Man’ at Dixie’s BBQ. Yeah, baby!”

Those who couldn’t take the heat would bolt to the front of the store for a handful of peanuts to put out the flame.

L.J. Porter said her father perfected his barbecue technique through trial-and-error. As for the sauce, “he was just kind of messing around with something one day, and he came up with it, and he started calling it ‘the man’ sauce,” she said.

The restaurant is a family business, L.J. Porter said. Dixie’s was named after Mr. Porter’s wife. For the red beans and rice and other side dishes, Mr. Porter used his mother’s recipes, which were originally developed in Louisiana and Mississippi. And Mr. Porter’s son, Alton, runs a barbecue restaurant and catering service, Porter’s Place, in Tacoma, as well as Porter’s Place & Dixie’s BBQ at Safeco Field.

Mr. Porter started his career as an auto mechanic, opening Porter’s Automotive Service in 1970 on Northup Way.

On the weekends, he’d cook barbecue for church fundraisers, raising thousands of dollars. One day, a parishioner persuaded him to drop auto repair and open a restaurant, she said.

Mr. Porter converted the auto shop into a barbecue restaurant in 1994, and soon after, the accolades began pouring in.

Dixie’s BBQ is closed for the week, but L.J. Porter said the restaurant will continue to operate.

Mr. Porter is survived by his wife of 50 years, Dixie; his children, Alton and L.J. Porter; and five grandchildren.

Services will be held at Overlake Christian Church, 9900 Willows Road N.E. in Redmond on Monday, March 8, with a viewing from 9 to 11 a.m., and a service at 11 a.m. Mr. Porter will be buried at Tahoma National Cemetery.

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or