Hot Sauce in the Family
2002


You don't know what it's like to make hot sauce until your hands burn for two days and you want to scream every time you see a chili pepper in the grocery store.

I learned what it was like when my dad started making hot sauce five years ago. Every Sunday we woke up to the sound of electric mixers and the pungent smell of habanero peppers. The aroma filled our house and wouldn't leave for days. At first, my brother, sister and I weren't too excited about getting up early on our Sundays, but we quickly grew accustomed to the hot sauce regimen. We even fought over who would get to use the mixer or who got to chop the vegetables. The most prized job was the bottle filler; we all aspired to be a filler one day.

Sometimes the fumes from the chopped onions and chili peppers got so bad that we'd wear goggles and bandanas over our mouths and noses. I always wondered what someone would think if they walked in on us wearing our hot sauce uniforms. We must've looked like we were preparing to rob a bank!

We made small, three-gallon batches in our tiny kitchen. My dad gave samples to family and friends in return for their opinions on how to improve the sauce. He said his reason for making hot sauce was that he could never find anything hot enough, but we knew better. He was always up to something. The true reason for our little hot sauce company was to teach us three kids the value of a dollar and give us a background in and sense for business. All the hard work and skin burn were just an added bonus.

Being the oldest I got to tag along with Dad to some of the shows. This was my favorite part of the hot sauce operation. There was a never-ending flow of entertainment coming from the people who flocked to the hot sauce tent. Their favorite question was "Is this hot? Is this one hot?" I must've heard those questions a thousand times, despite the fact there were signs everywhere stating that hot sauce is hot! Every time my father and I exhibited at a show, there would be people who, ignoring the warning signs, plunged their chips into the fiery liquid. After a few suspenseful seconds they would run away with chip in mouth, tongues burning, and eyes watering, and if we were lucky, they would stay at the table and uncontrollably hiccup. My favorite type of customer was the "Owl"; we called them that because of the hoot they made after treating themselves to a little too much habanero. They would shout "whooo whooooo," and wave at the air above their tongues as if it would actually help them to cool their mouths off.

Despite our complaints, my brother, sister and I were dragged quite willingly into the world of small business, with a minor in economics. What started out to be one of life's lessons turned into a viable, nationally recognized, Maine gourmet and specialty food company, and I wouldn't trade the experience for the world.

 

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