My first memories of being introduced to hot and spicy food came around the young age of 6 years old, where my parents would pack the family car and head off to upstate NY farms to pick fresh vegetables, which included hot peppers. We had a garden growing up but it did not produce half the amount of vegetables that my parents cooked with so it was off to the farms.
Our house was always filled with the fragrance of fresh green everything and my father would eat hot peppers straight from the bushel. That’s a taste I didn’t acquire until just before my teen years, but what I always had was a taste for cooking the bounty of the family’s gardening labor into sauces, filling Mason jars and storing them on deep shelves in our Syracuse, NY cellar. Those harvests got the family through the snowy upstate winters, always with amazing food to eat.
We had a huge basement and the back wall was always filled with Mason jars of tomatoes and peppers. My mother would make hot sauces, spreads, eggplant and artichoke. On Sunday, Mom would get a mason jar full of tomatoes and make her own sauce. My parents made everything on their own. Dad would make his own wine. He’d get a pork butt and make his own sausage.
That’s where my passion for cooking started. Even now, every Sunday I’ll make my own sauce with homemade meatballs and sausage, all from scratch. Although I didn’t know it at the time, my culinary passion would one day be enjoyed by many more people. At age 6, I stood by my mother at the cutting board, the stove and the dinner table. I wielded the wooden spoon and chased my younger brother and sister out of the kitchen, “I’m making sauce”, I said. “Get out of my Kitch-eone!” Cooking was my specialty, right alongside mama, as I inhaled aromas, honed my taste buds and simmered my skills.
When I wasn’t in the kitchen, I raced my father through the family garden and farms picking hot peppers, tomatoes, onions, and of course, not listening when dad said not to touch my eyes after picking peppers.
Of course my home has a garden, and at harvest time, fresh vegetables found their way into my first pepper sauce years ago. I never wrote anything down and created my first pepper sauce all by eye and taste through the cooking process with no recipe – a little this, a little that. Like I made everything else, I threw it together to taste and never wrote anything down, and Voila!
Mason jars appeared filled with my own pepper sauce. The first shot my family and friends loved it and persuaded me to try and sell it. Every chef loves to share, and so do I – with just about anyone who wants a taste. I had no intention of starting a company, but everyone loved it and persuaded me. Little did I know that back then, Pallotta Hot was about to become a reality, but first we had more important additions to welcome – our two boys, now 6, and 5, whom my wife and I adopted from South Korea, so the Company was put to the wayside. Fast forward to 2016, and with the adoptions settled and the house truly a home, I could focus on pepper sauce.
There was A LOT of research done from starting my first batch to bringing Pallotta Hot to full on operations. First I researched costs of producing my sauces; bottles, labels, ingredients, any regulatory and testing costs, etc…Next was to go on the FDA website and educate myself on all the requirements of starting a hot sauce company. Forming an LLC, learning about pH levels, bottling and labeling requirements, filings, taxes, etc… it was A LOT of work but necessary. Next I had to find and contract with a co-packer, and was lucky enough to find a co-packer locally so I could be there during production. Even now when my co-packer makes batches for me, I am there for each and every batch, opening up kettles, adding water or vinegar, tasting… It’s all about the quality control in each and every batch.
Every day is a learning experience. You will never stop learning and if you want to be the best you can be, you will look and seek out opportunities that will make you better at your craft! Never think you know it all because once the learning process stops growing, the company stops growing.
The first lesson I learned was, WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN AND TAKE NOTES on your process, including recipes. My first ever sauce, I didn’t write anything down and it took me 7 or 8 batches in the blender to recreate the sauce. Either it was too red, or too garlicky, or not thick enough, or too tomatoey.
I am not a salesman by either trade or heart, and the most difficult lesson I’ve learned is going out of my comfort zone by walking into stores and shops and handing out samples for store managers/owners, being a salesman for your product, is a necessity and an extremely difficult one for me. I’ve never had the “salesman” type of personality and pitching my sauces to store managers/owners is a difficult discussion to have.
Most don’t have the time to listen to a pitch so I’ve learned to keep it short and sweet. I won’t hear back from everyone, maybe not even half the stores I walk into, but that’s ok, believe in your sauce and never give up!
Onto the next.
I grow all my own vegetables and ingredients, so determining how much ingredients to grow and how many bottles of sauce that will yield, and having enough to meet demands without having too much inventory is a challenge but one I’ve learned with a little math and some experience.
I currently have 6 sauces; Original Pepper Sauce, which features Italian long hot peppers, tomatoes and garlic and is a tomato base rather than a vinegar base; Habanero Fire Hot, which features Habanero Peppers, tomatoes and garlic and is also a tomato base rather than a vinegar base; Jalapeno Lime which features Jalapenos, Cilantro, Onion, Garlic and Lime; Pineapple Jalapeno which features Pineapples, Jalapenos and Lemon. This sauce was rated top ten best hot sauce at the 2018 NYC Hot Sauce Expo, something we are proud of being so new to the industry; Louisiana Style Habanero which is a Louisiana Style hot sauce featuring Habanero’s instead of the typical Tabasco or Cayenne pepper typically found in these style of hot sauces. This sauce landed on hot sauce reviewer extraordinaire Bill Moore’s Hot and Spicy Review as a top 35 hot sauce for 2018. Bill also awarded Pallotta Hot the Best Product Line of 2018. As I write this I am also developing a Habanero/Ghost /Scorpion pepper blend that I will debut hopefully by March 1, 2019.
Although I have a full time job in finance, this certainly is no part time gig. There are just as many hours spent during nights and weekends on Pallotta Hot as there are in the office. You definitely have to have a passion for your company if you work another full time job because you only get out of your company what you put into it.
This industry is really amazing and surprisingly helpful. Unlike the typical corporate giants Walmart and Target butting heads, although very competitive, this industry if very helpful between companies. I find the more established companies have no problem giving advice and sharing thoughts and ideas (aside from recipes) and I love talking shop and giving advice as well to other companies. I couldn’t be happier with my following and all the support they’ve shown Pallotta Hot. I owe all the success I’ve had to them. I give a heartfelt thank you to everyone who supports Pallotta Hot, I love them all! The hot sauce industry/community is really one large family.
I love the challenge of creating something that people love. I have always had a passion for cooking so making something that people can use and people want keeps me even more motivated to continue being a hot sauce maker. They are part of my inspiration and a part my life.
The most important advice I would give to hobbyists and those interested in starting your own hot sauce company is what I said above; first do your research on costs, suppliers, regulations, etc… Next if you’re like me and not a salesman, you will have to go out of your comfort zone if you want your sauces in stores and pitch your product to people who likely hear product pitches on a daily or weekly basis. Be prepared to take rejection because not all stores that you walk into will carry your product, maybe not even half, and most won’t return your calls or emails. Do not let them get you down, stay positive and never give up on your dreams!
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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.