Written by Quarantine Project Hot Sauce owner Rick DeSimone
Quarantine Project Hot Sauce started, as you likely guessed, during the COVID-19 pandemic. On December 7th of 2020, while digging in my pantry for the last of the quarantine snacks, I came across a hot sauce making kit my wife had gotten me years prior. Like most of my hobbies, it had languished in a forgotten corner gathering dust. But with bars closed and movie theaters empty, I finally had the time to cook up a batch.
When I opened it, the kit only contained dry chiles, powdered spices, and cheap vinegar. It had a little guide for creating your own sauce, the instructions were basically “soak and strain”. None of the included recipes looked appealing, so I decided to try converting one of my favorite roasted jalapeno salsa recipes into a hot sauce. I set out and bought fresh jalapenos, garlic, and onions, then roasted them until the skins peeled and the house was filled with tempting smells. It took a bit of time and experimentation to get the right amounts of vinegar and water to make a sauce that flowed smoothly and still had great flavor, but the first batch turned out much better than I expected. It only made six 5 oz bottles of sauce, and the friends I shared it with gave rave reviews. So, I got a notion to start selling it.
I began to research the process for starting a small hot sauce business, and immediately became disheartened. Colorado has very strict cottage food laws, and selling anything made in house would be very illegal. Also, I kinda didn’t want to risk giving anyone botulism. The other paths forward were renting a commercial kitchen, which seemed too expensive and time-consuming for the small quantities I’d want; or contracting with a co-packer, which had very high minimum production quantities. There was no way I could commit to buying 40 gallons of hot sauce.
Or was there? I had since cooked another half dozen or so batches, tweaking the recipe to get the pH levels right without overwhelming the flavor of the peppers. I’d also created a distinctive chipotle recipe that used lemon juice instead of vinegar. Both of the sauces had gotten great feedback from co-workers and friends, and I’d sent samples to some hot sauce reviewers online, who also enjoyed them.
So, on February 1st, Quarantine Project became an LLC, and on February 22nd, I committed to two 40 gallon production runs of the jalapeno and chipotle sauces, which became Picky Ricky and Loca Lola.
To raise funds and gauge interest, I ran a 28-day Kickstarter campaign, with a goal of raising $5,000. Within 4 days, we’d raised 53% of our goal and ended up raising $6,870 by the end! We had our first production run with Colorado Co-Packing on April 14th, which gave us almost 2,100 bottles. Since then, we’ve added Dieselbones, a spicier sauce with serranos, jalapenos, and garlic. We’ve started selling at farmer’s markets, where about 65% of people who sample the sauce end up buying. And, we’ve entered the wholesale market, and are currently at 7 retailers from California to Pennsylvania, with more added every week. We’ve now gone through almost our entire original production run! I’m also working with restaurants who are looking for custom sauces, and am finalizing a recipe for a bar in North Carolina that is going to buy the whole production batch.
It’s been a whirlwind of a journey, but I’ve had plenty of support along the way. Our stunning logos were created by an old friend who does graphic design, Kyle Bufkin (@bufillustrated on Instagram). Our Kickstarter video was shot and edited by a guy I’ve known for 20 years, Jonathon Obenchain (edgeoftheendlessdream.com). And our product photos were shot by our wedding photographer, Tommy Cowan (www.t5photodenver.com).
Also, I’ve had incredible support from our local suppliers, Savory Spice and Select New Mexico, who provide us with the garlic, onion, chiles, and roasted jalapenos. Carlos Ruiz at Colorado Co-Packing is extremely knowledgeable and supportive, and has helped guide me every step of the way. My friend Dan Steiner is an accountant who has helped set up all our financial accounts, and has since joined as a partner and CFO. And my wife Kristin is my most hesitant but vigilant cheerleader. She keeps my impulses in check and works to make sure my ambitions are realistic and achievable.
I can’t believe this journey started just over 6 months ago, and I’m thrilled to see where it will lead. We have ambitious plans for expansion, and I’m working 7 days a week (day job included) to make sure they come to fruition. In a year, I’d love to be running this company full time, and I want to expand our collection. I’m working on a smoked serrano sauce now that will likely become my personal favorite! Next, I am going to make a “Tot Sauce” for kids and adults who are capsacin-challenged.
All the sauces are designed “for people who still want to taste their food”. We use milder peppers in larger quantities, so you really taste the complexity of the roasted and smoked flavors. We also use as little vinegar as possible, so that’s not the first or last thing you taste. The sauces are all gluten- and sugar-free, and low sodium to boot. I’m proud of what we’ve created here, and I’m happy to be able to share it with you!
Thank you for taking the time to read our story! Rick DeSimone