The idea

Miles: ‘I was on a work trip to Florida and a colleague of mine encouraged me to try a datil pepper sauce – which I had never heard of and which is a local legend in St Augustine. I didn’t like hot sauce very much at the time, but I tried it and fell in love with it. I brought some home and everybody loved it. We thought it would be fun to, firstly, try to make our own and, secondly, share this cool story with people. We thought: if we can make the product good enough, there could be a business here.’


Miles: ‘The market research we did was pretty instinctive, not based on a ton of data. We tried every datil pepper sauce we could find from the St Augustine area – it was important our product paid tribute to their style. Then we looked at what else was available on shelves and played around with the cost of goods, and where we’d need to fit in.’

PJ: ‘I had experience working in the restaurant industry and we’d often have a staff meal before service where we’d make simple hot sauces. So I had an understanding of how to make one.’


Miles: ‘It’s been self-funded. We basically pooled our resources and took it step by step, opportunity by opportunity because we didn’t know how much money it was going to take to get it off the ground. When we realised people liked it, we invested in a good designer, in good equipment. And we’ve been really resourceful – we’re lean and mean.’

The first batches

PJ: ‘We’d go to [additional co-founder] Josh’s house and make small batches – half a gallon of hot sauce. It started very simple, just a saucepan and a blender. The first batch was good, just not good enough. For six or seven months, every weekend we’d meet up and tweak the recipe from the previous week and try it again. We made hundreds of attempts until we were happy with it. The first batch was 168 bottles.’

Miles: ‘We were just so close to it so it had become less obvious to us what needed to change. We started filling little plastic squeeze bottles, bringing them to friends or family gatherings and gauged people’s reactions. We tried to put it in front of people who didn’t know that it was ours – raw, unsolicited feedback.’


PJ: ‘We searched online for commercial kitchens in LA – at first we rented shared kitchen spaces, four hours a week. We’d go in there, make the product, then move all the equipment back into our cars. We’re now in a big warehouse with private kitchen spaces, full of emerging brands. We’re able to share ideas or resources with the other tenants there.’ 

Miles: ‘A lot of folks in hot sauce will have it produced by a contractor or co-packer but we’re obsessed with quality and having extreme control and flexibility to change the recipe.’

Packaging and branding

PJ: ‘Most hot sauce comes in the same bottle – it was very important to us that we’re using something unique, something that stands out on the shelf. That’s created its own struggles.’

Miles: ‘We wanted to communicate “quality old-school craftsmanship” and “handmade” because we do make the sauce ourselves. So, very early on in the process we looked for designers who fit that style, sourced some quotes and landed on one that we absolutely loved. We spent months going back and forth on ideas and designs.’


Miles: ‘We had no idea how complex and intricate it would be – it’s hard to find information online on making hot sauce at scale.’

PJ: ‘Miles and I had to go and do a week-long course about food preservation. We had an inspector come and watch the entire process from start to finish. It was almost eight months of waiting and dealing with the state, filling out the necessary paperwork, going to the school and getting the inspection.’

Miles: ‘We quickly shifted from guys having fun in the kitchen. You have to be very diligent and serious when you’re producing food at scale, and understandably so. That was a big challenge, but it’s also fun because it forced us to elevate our game and master the craft.’


Miles: ‘We knew we needed to plan for the future and leave room for a healthy margin for distributors and retailers. We figured based on the high quality, rare ingredients and handmade craftsmanship, we were OK being slightly more expensive than the established hot sauce. We also wanted to make sure our pricing to restaurants was reasonable and competitive.’

Getting the word out

PJ: ‘We signed up for a local farmers’ market, got ourselves a tent and a couple of tables and put it out there. I think we basically sold out the first day – it was nerve-wracking to be standing there with complete strangers trying the sauce. But the cool thing was we didn’t really get any negative feedback.’

Miles: ‘We reached out to a few of our favorite local restaurants and asked the chefs or the owners to try it and provide feedback. Some of them loved it and started carrying it. That really helped us to create awareness, got people talking about the sauce and sharing it on social media. We also chose local speciality stores – places where people look for new fun things as opposed to the established grocery stores where you’re up against many options. That really helped us get some credibility.’

This article was first published in Courier issue 39, February/March 2021. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

You might like these, too