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An Ocean Springs soap company and a Biloxi barbecue sauce will be in swag bags at the Academy Awards.
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An Ocean Springs soap company and a Biloxi barbecue sauce will be in swag bags at the Academy Awards.

The 88th annual Academy Awards will have a little Coast-style Southern hospitality as two local entrepreneurs will have their products in the gift bags for those attending the ceremony.

Marina Cottage Soap Co. of Ocean Springs and J. Lee's Gourmet BBQ Sauce of Biloxi will represent the Coast and the Magnolia State at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles for the Feb. 28 awards.

Vanessa Mueller, owner of Marina Cottage, is no stranger to the Hollywood "swag bag" phenomenon.

"We participated in the January Golden Globes; we're at the Oscars and the MTV Movie Awards in April," she said. "This is our second year to do the Oscar gift suites."

Mueller, a retired registered nurse, began making her soap as an alternative treatment for a skin condition.

"As an RN, I started making products for our daughter in our kitchen because of her eczema," she said. "A few years ago, I started making products for other family and friends, and it kind of took off."

She said after stores started contacting her about carrying her products, she decided it was time for a career change.

"It became evident after a few months that I either needed to do nursing full time or I needed to do this," she said. "It has worked out great. We get a lot of referrals from physicians in the community -- I'm still nursing, but in my own store."

Although she is a veteran when it comes to having her products at award shows, Mueller said it's exciting to be a small part of Hollywood.

"It's honor to be chosen out of all the companies that are around, and we get to represent Ocean Springs," she said.

The companies were picked from host groups with the awards show. The owners were contacted by email. The soap and the sauce were selected by different vendors and will not be in the same gift baskets. Mueller said they have no idea who will be receiving their products.

James Lee of J. Lee's Gourmet BBQ Sauce has been bottling and selling his "secret recipe" sauce since 2013. Lee said he received his email about a week ago seeking to have his product in the Oscar gift bags.

"I was surprised," he said of his invitation. "The Academy Awards and barbecue -- sounds like a winner to me. They said they had heard about my product on the West Coast, and they invited us to come out."

Lee, a retired Army veteran, will be packing a couple hundred bottles of his regular sauce and his spicy version and heading to Hollywood.

"We're going to drive out for the Academy Awards," he said. "The Saturday before the ceremony we are going to be doing a demo for a red-carpet event. We will definitely be in the gift bags. We are going to give them a bottle of each sauce."

He said is "blessed" to be a part of the awards.

"God has really blessed us," he said. "I started making sauce in 1999 when I was in the Army. Now, we're heading to the Academy Awards."

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