A hot sauce aficionado turns passion into profession, one step at a time
YOU WON’T CATCH Jesse Long slapping ridiculous names on his company’s hot sauces. No Satan’s Blood. No Ass in the Tub. Hellfire Death Sauce? Forget it.
Decidedly more spartan names like Peppers & Peaches, Habenero & Herbs, Habanero & Mango grace his bottles, sold under the equally utilitarian brand, The Hot Sauce Co.
“My names, that’s a big thing for me. That’s important. No gimmicks, no fancy names,” Long says. “The sauce will speak for itself.”
Long doesn’t seem to take the usual way with many things. He started The Hot Sauce Co. following a career in IT and a stint in an import business.
“I climbed the ladder successfully, but it still always felt like I was going against the grain,” he says.
Long had started the import venture with a friend not long before The Hot Sauce Co., but couldn’t shake the notion of launching a small-batch hot sauce business. “I was like, ‘Look man, I gotta go do this hot sauce thing.’”
He started by getting hands on 4,500 glass bottles — essentially his accountability method. If you have 4,500 empty bottles purchased at about 70 cents a unit, he reasons, eventually you have to fill them with something.
And he had a few recipes on hand, too. A former Fanshawe College student, he was the founder of the school’s hot sauce club (yes, it received funding from the student union), which was where he first cooked up what is now The Hot Sauce Co.’s Habanero & Mango sauce.
Long, who sources his peppers locally in-season and from Cuba during the off-season, started selling bottles here and there to family and friends last year, while honing the business concept through participation in incubator and small-business programs.
His next step was to start selling at business expos, shows and festivals. “I applied to be in the Heat Wave Hot Sauce Expo and got approved for that,” he recalls. “I didn’t know how to place things on a table. I didn’t know how to make things look pretty. I kind of faked it till I made it.”
When the pandemic threw its own heat into the business mix, Long adapted, turning away from shows and instead putting his energies into developing online sales and a wholesale network.
“I’m a pitbull, I was not stopping,” he says. “I was going to find a way to make it work. I was figuring out how to ship anywhere, trying to figure out the right cost.”
The startup definitely remains a small-batch operation, but gradually his sauces are showing up in a growing number of stores and restaurants, both locally and beyond, and at popups in spots like the Kensington Flea Market in Toronto.
There is no grand franchising or brand strategy, or if there is, Long isn’t letting anyone else in on it. At this point, he simply wants to sell more hot sauce.
“I’ve done some collabs in London with different businesses — things to help myself and the local business community at the same time. Everybody’s hurting right now, so I’m just trying to network with as many as possible,” he says.
“I like making food and feeding people. That’s pleasure for me, watching people eat some amazing food that you’ve made. And that kind of played right into this whole hot sauce thing.” Kieran Delamont