April 8 2016 04:16 PM

Local makers haven’t formed a community

Awesome Hot Sauce owners Rebecca and Daniel Urbaetis
Photo courtesy of Awesome Hot Sauce

Considering how popular hot sauce is in San Diego, it's amazing that the city hasn't developed a signature hot sauce—unless you count those little plastic tubs that every taco shop throws in your order.

"There's no real community, but a lot of local hot sauces," laments Hector Montano-Dupont, the co-owner of Wassumatta Hot Sauce (555 Saturn Blvd.), a brand of hot sauce and salsas sold at local farmer's markets around town. "But if we all pull together to become a hot sauce city, we'll all be better off."

Making a good hot sauce is like learning the blues: The elements of both are basic, but doing it well can take a lifetime to master.

Sandra Bushfield knows this firsthand. She owns Hot Sauces 'N More in the Otay Ranch Shopping Center and is often pitched new hot sauce ideas by aspiring pepperheads hoping to make the next Tabasco, Sriracha or Frankís Red Hot.

Most leave her cold.

"I want something that doesn't taste like just a different flavor of ketchup," she says.

Specialty shops like Hot Sauces 'N More (2015 Birch Road) and Hot Licks (865 W. Harbor Drive) at Seaport Village usually sell a variety of spicy items. In addition to hot sauce, the store sells mustards, jerkys, barbecue sauces and even jellies.

You'd think that many hotheads want food products that bring the heat, but that's not the case according to Hot Licks owner Craig Lerner.

"As popular as hot sauce is, we found many customers don't want a super hot sauce," he says. "They just love the flavor of peppers but prefer a medium or mild sauce."

Possibly the most famous locally-based hot sauce is Just Chili (3328 Mccully St.), a Sriracha-type sauce invented locally in the 1970s and is available at many local restaurants.

However, the original owners sold the company two years ago to a family in Huntington Beach and the product is bottled in Temecula.

Lerner sells a variety of locally made hot sauces, but says the most popular is Ring Of Fire, a brand made by Mike and Diane Greening in El Cajon.

"It's a great hot sauce," Lerner says. "It used to win all sorts of awards when the owners were entering contests."

But the sauce creator has a dirty little secret.

"I'm actually not a fan of hot food," says Mike Greening. "It was designed for bodybuilders who eat a very bland diet. It's a way to add flavor to chicken breasts or egg whites. I don't just want heat. I want to have a variety of flavors in my mouth."

Greening says one reason why there's no real hot sauce community locally, may be because many of the makers are so busy making sauce they don't have time to connect.

"What I'd really like to do is work with a microbrewery to make hot sauces and mustards based on their brews," he says.

A more cohesive sauce scene might help raise awareness locally and nationally of area hot sauce samplings, but some saucy entrepreneurs like Daniel Urbaetis are happy right where they're at.

Urbaetis runs Awesome Hot Sauce (2754 Calhoun St.) in Old Town, where he sells 28 types of hot sauce using his family recipe, including the Hummzinger, a cayenne pepper-based hot sauce with cumin and garbanzo beans that came in third at the 2015 World Hot Sauce Awards.

He believes that sort of recognition is the way for local hot sauce makers to make the impact they desire.

"What I am doing and what other companies should begin to do is enter these contests on a grander stage and they will get the recognition that you think they should have providing their product is good,” he says.


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