Every Hot Sauce Tells a Story

THE LA hot sauce

My daughter Fanny told me that the hot sauce in the Hawaii house we are staying in has THE LA Hot Sauce. It is called Tapatio.  I didn't know cities had their own hot sauce like states have their own birds. Its roots are clearly Mexican and it was very fresh California/Mexican flavors and foods. 

My hot sauce brand life has revolved around 3 stories. When I worked on the Slim Jim business, we licensed the McIlhenny brand (Tabasco) for a hot and spicy Slim Jim. Their family story is awesome.

Tabasco (from Wikipedia)
Tabasco sauce was first produced in 1868 by Edmund McIlhenny, a Maryland-born former banker who moved to Louisiana around 1840. McIlhenny initially used discarded cologne bottles to distribute his sauce to family and friends. In 1868 when he started to sell to the public he ordered thousands of new cologne bottles from a New Orleans glass works. On his death in 1890, 

McIlhenny was succeeded by his eldest son, John Avery McIlhenny, who expanded and modernized the business, but resigned after a few years to join Theodore Roosevelt's volunteer cavalry regiment known as the Rough Riders.[1]

I got to talk to Paul McIlhenny during our bi-annual licensing negotiations and I am sorry I never got to visit them in Louisiana. I remember hearing how they cared for their peppers like a winemaker would coddle her grapes. It was a reverence and almost spiritual experience for the growers and their plant that made the sauce. They filtered the vinegar like a winery would treat water. I noticed and they helped me care even more about the brand and its special flavor. 

My second hot sauce love affair was Texas Pete

It started during the same time period when I would eat at Boondini’s in Raleigh and could enjoy this beauty of a hot sauce in their homemade vegetable soup. Eventually I bought a jar and had to try it with eggs and in my own concoctions. It was never hot like Tabasco but always gave me a great flavor hit of sweet and tangy pepper and tomato. Pete, as Fanny and I referred to it, was made in North Carolina by Garner Foods but had an awesome presence in our house. We revered it.

Their story can be found here on their web site. But why would a North Carolina company create a brand with Texas in the name? 


”So. how is it that a tasty red pepper sauce made in North Carolina happens to be named ‘Texas Pete’ anyway?” Legend has it that, when Sam Garner and his three sons, Thad, Ralph and Harold, were trying to come up with a brand name for this spicy new sauce they had created, a marketing advisor suggested the name ”Mexican Joe” to connote the piquant flavor reminiscent of the favorite foods of our neighbors to the south. 

”Nope!” said the patriarch of the Garner family. ”It’s got to have an American name!” Sam suggested they move across the border to Texas, which also had a reputation for spicy cuisine. Then he glanced at son Harold, whose nickname was ”Pete” and the Texas Pete cowboy was born. 

Movie cowboys were very popular in the 1930′s, men like Tom Mix and Hopalong Cassidy, representing a sort of universal image of rugged independence and self-reliance, the perfect ideal for a family business trying to survive tough times. Actually, Texas Pete Hot Sauce was not the first product the Garner family made and sold. That distinction belonged to Garners’ Barbecue Sauce.
Then, when I was in Sacramento and having breakfast at the annual Wine
Trade Show called Unified, I experienced Cholula. It had a magnificent closure (A wooden stopper) that was distinctive and elegant. Their hot sauce was more tomato-y with just enough spice and kick to make it interesting. It had a very different flavor profile. I love to cook with it in sauces that need a background note instead of a strong beat.

The Chohula Story
The hot sauce is named after the 2,500-year-old city of Cholula, Puebla, the oldest still-inhabited city in Mexico. The name "Cholula" is derived from the Nahuatl toponym Chollollan, meaning "the place of the retreat." The sauce is sometimes referred to as the flavorful fire. More here

So when I learned that Tapico is what those in LA think is cool – at least they did a few years ago, I had to test it out. It did not disappoint.

Why am I sharing this?  

Hot sauce isn’t just hot sauce. Like any crowded category, the brands need to occupy a special place and somewhere that isn’t expected. Trendy, spicy, tomatoe-y --- it all counts. But it needs to tell some type of story that connects with a community. Like wine, I keep all three hot sauces in my pantry so I can use them like special seasonings in things I cook. There isn't one that solves all of my cooking needs. But I do being part of each of their communities online and feeling some of their spicy, tomato love. 

"Tapatío" is the name given to people from Guadalajara, Jalisco: the company's founders come from Guadalajara. It is exported to MexicoCanadaCentral AmericaAustralia and a few countries in Europe. It is marketed as a very saucy sauce. I guess it can be my vacation hot sauce, pinch hitting while I'm away. 

What hot sauce are you drizzling on your foods these days? 

Oh, and what love stories are consumers sharing about your brand? 


If you'd like to pick my marketing brain about your hot and spicy story, you can do it through Clarity at this link

I donate 100% of your fee to a non-profit called Charity Water

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