I grew up in Kansas so spicy food wasn’t a readily available option. Mild salsa and jalapenos were about as hot as my family dared. It wasn’t until a little later in life (around middle school) when I was exposed to chilies and different hot peppers.
I was good friends with a Chinese kid who would walk to his parent’s restaurant every day after school. My dad worked construction and wasn’t always able to pick me up after school, so I would walk with him. That is when I was exposed to a whole different world of food, peppers being one of them.
I didn’t start making hot sauce until I started farming. Before then, I had made salsa in culinary school but hadn’t really dabbled in hot sauce. I had a farmer’s market stand in Topeka, Kansas for a little over four years.
I started growing hot peppers because I liked them and you never know, maybe someone else would like them, but then again, it’s Kansas. A couple of gentlemen came up to my stand and bought out all my peppers on a weekly basis and wanted me to grow more each season. I asked them what they were doing with all of these chilies and they said, “We’re making hot sauce” so I started looking into making hot sauce.
We started sharing recipes and techniques and even seeds. It was a great little community. I was taking some time off from a horrible experience helping someone open a restaurant and one day my wife asked me “What are you going to do next?” I said, “I want to sell my hot sauce.”
We often have a family dinner at one house in our friend group, so I used them as guinea pigs by making batches with different peppers and getting their feedback. I used that time to narrow it down to four flavors.
My next step was to find a commercial kitchen where I could produce my sauce. My wife was talking with a friend of hers and during the conversation, she said that her husband had a kitchen in the middle of his artist collective that wasn’t being used. The place used to be an old event space and the kitchen hadn’t been used for more than storage since then. I went and looked at it, and it was perfect. It even had a hood vent system. I just had to get it inspected.
After a few weeks of work and initial inspections, we were in business. Just in time too because my wife was getting tired of the lingering fermented chili aroma in the house. I got incorporated and started buying equipment.
I hired a graphic designer for labels, sourced bottles and started producing. My sauce is a little different than most being fermented, but I’m sure I have a similar story to most hot sauce entrepreneurs.
I have been making the sauce for about six or seven years, so I had the recipes down and knew the process. However, I wasn’t positive the sauce would scale. I mean in theory it would, but what if it didn’t and it just grew mold and I wasted a bunch of money. Luckily my first batch came out great. The only adjustment I had to make was the temperature. I purchased a seed starting mat and raised the ambient temperature to aid the fermentation.
Other than that, my only growing pains have been selling the sauce, educating people of my type of sauce and scaling for production. I use a meat grinder to make my “mash” and I use homebrew equipment for the fermentation process. Then I use a juicer to extract the pulp and separate out the seeds and skins.
My biggest challenge to date has been sourcing the peppers/chilies. Luckily, I live in Atlanta so I have access to a wide variety of options and sources. Finding those pepper sources and getting a steady supply are challenging sometimes.
So far, my company is just myself working on it full time, and my wife and kids help when they can. I would love to grow my operation. Currently, I’m in a couple of local markets, farmer’s markets and restaurants.
Recently my landlord, who is a member of a well-known rock band and a huge fan of my sauce asked me if I would be interested packaging one of my sauces with their album artwork and sell the sauce under their name. Of course, I said yes, so that is in the early stages. Their name and access to many people on social media have been a huge bonus.
I don’t know a lot about the hot sauce community, and in fact, I don’t like a lot of hot sauces. They taste too artificial to me. No offense to anyone, but I am just a huge fan of pepper flavors. That’s why my sauces are minimal with so few ingredients. Let the peppers shine!
All of my sauces have the same recipe, just different types of chilies/peppers. All types of people like my sauces, but really the lovers of the sauce like my wife and I, try to live a healthy natural life. Having a refrigerated sauce that doesn’t use any preservatives other than vinegar or thickeners, speaks to people who are like-minded with us. I make my sauce because I love it. We use it a lot and so do our friends. And I think everyone should!
I’m trying to carve out a little niche in the hot sauce market for handcrafted, small batch, fermented hot sauces. I think they are all amazing and have so many possibilities.
I say go for it!!! Your best friend is enthusiasm. If you love your product and shout it from the rooftops, there is a good chance you will succeed.
Just make sure you are making a product that is worthy of shouting.
Nicholas Gregory Owner | Chief Sauce Maker