"I’ve always loved to cook," says Joe Stewart, owner of Dat’s Nice Hot Sauce. He explained, "The Datil peppers fascinated me because they were spicy hot with a kind of sweet tang!”
After a few years of thinking about it, Joe began a journey… attempting to growing Datil pepper plants in pots in his backyard in St. Augustine, FL. Once he successfully grew plenty of the little yellow lanterns, his first thoughts were to make some of his favorite foods using Datil peppers, just to see how they spiced up a meal.
It didn’t take much because his old recipes became a new hit! Before he knew it, Joe’s family and friends were telling him he should bottle it. At first he laughed and told everyone that was no more than a silly dream, but the idea kept drawing him back. Eventually, he gave in as he thought there wasn’t a lot to lose by just checking things out. So he decided to look for a bottling company to see if he could make something happen.
Amazingly though, it wasn’t a smooth journey. Sure, Joe grew a bunch of Datil peppers and bought the other necessary ingredients, then blended them together in the kitchen. That was the easy part… but getting the bottler’s version of the sauce to taste like his own was a definite challenge. Quickly he learned he needed to also decide on the bottle type and size, and then he’d need to find a label company. Above all, he recalls, was when he had to agree to the preservatives the bottler intended to use. It took a few tries (and few failures) but eventually the sauces came together and in 2010, his sauce was in bottles.
Joe shares his story on the back of every sampler pack. It’s unique, written as a sort of jingle, and gets attention as part of his branding:
“The history behind ‘Dat’s Nice’ hot sauce says it all in the name. The Dat’s kind of rolls right off the tongue just like the wonderful taste from the Datil peppers in our pepper sauces that are indigenous to the St. Augustine, Florida area. The Nice… well that’s how you feel after eating one of our great hot pepper sauces on just about anything. After making the pepper sauces for many years, friends and family said, “Dat’s Nice! You should sell it.” Yeah right, sounds more like a pipe dream! Then one day we decided what the heck, let’s do it. Now go on and enjoy Dat’s Nice Hot Sauce with your friends and family. We are so sure that you will enjoy the products so we have a GUARANTEE. The guarantee is, “If you don’t like this sauce, you won’t buy another bottle, we guarantee it!”
St. Augustine is a resort town that attracts tourists from all over the world and its home to crafters, artisans and local entrepreneurs. This artistic atmosphere rolls out the carpet for the numerous festivals, shows, outside markets and exhibits that run all year long. Joe has a huge spirit with a great passion and tries to attend them all. Patronage has followed because once people meet Joe, they remember him. Customers who've tried his sauces just love the different flavors and keep coming back for more.
What hot sauce connoisseurs need to realize is there is a huge difference between HOT and SPICY sauces. So many hot sauces are just that… they’re HOT! They have a lot of heat, but they have very little flavor; it’s as if made with hot peppers, vinegar, salt and water. Dat’s Nice hot sauces, on the other hand, are more of a SPICY gourmet condiment. These unique flavors have more depth and tang, so each one marries well with all types of food dishes. You get the heat and the flavor all in one taste. On the website there are many recipes that are made with the different flavors of Dat’s Nice. Follow our link to the Recipe Page.
One on-going business challenge for him has been to keep up with the never-ending changes the FDA makes regarding ingredient verbiage and nutritional values. Joe says this is a point of contention for him because when trying to build a business, the average Joe can only increase profit by keeping costs low. So take labels, for instance. The more you purchase at one time, the cheaper the cost per label you pay. Yet on the other side, if you buy 10K labels in June and the FDA changes the nutritional values in July, those remaining labels are trash.
A great benefit to his business has been meeting restaurateurs around town. As mentioned before, Joe loves to cook, so he got an idea that if he could get his sauce in front of local chefs... that they'd love it. He was right! Today, Dat's Nice Hot Sauce is used by 19 (and growing) gourmet shops and restaurants. Restaurants in St. Augustine not only cook with Dat’s Nice Hot Sauces, but they also make it available on the tables, co-branded with both logos. Dat’s Nice sauces are also vended through upscale markets, shops, kiosks, and have even taken numerous trips abroad to London, England!
Joe’s dream today is to take his delectable flavors far beyond the boundaries of St. Augustine, Florida. He is also attempting to meet the right contacts so he can sell via a grocery chain. He is openly receptive to any ideas or conversations with folks who can see his vision and may know of a path to the future opportunity. Contact info is available on the website.
His tasty flavors include both 5oz, 12oz, and gallon bottles of Dat's Nice Original Datil Pepper Sauce, Datil Pepper BBQ Sauce, Datil Pepper Chickin’ Dippin’, Datil Pepper Mango Sauce, and Dat’s Nice Hotter-n-Hell.
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Cottage Lane Kitchen was founded by me in 2010, and it isn't only my business name, but also refers to a secret lane in Chapel Hill, NC where our family homestead was built in the 1950s. Four generations of my family have cooked and preserved spicy peppers out of love and tradition in that kitchen.
The last homemade batch of my family's spicy pepper relish was made by my Grandfather in the early 1990s. He grew chilies around the outside of the house and harvested and pickled them during my summer visits. I remember him watering the empty tin cans he buried beside each pepper plant.
Normally the Craft Hot Sauce Podcast interviews hot sauce makers all over the world. This episode is more of a riff from Brian the host about some of the things his hot sauce company Craic Sauce got up this summer.