Farmers Market Spotlight: Big Red’s Hot Sauce
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Paul and Tasia Ford never really considered themselves “hot sauce people” until that fateful day: a neighbor invited them over, and just so happened to be a hot sauce connoisseur and collector, with hot sauce bottles covering every surface and stacked where furniture should have been, Tasia recalled.
Wide-eyed, Paul and Tasia returned home and researched hot sauce; what they found was a huge community of hot sauce fans, thriving across the country. Paul, a self-taught cook with extra-sensitive tastebuds and a detective-like talent for creating and re-creating favorite flavors, picked a few veggies from their garden and played around with different recipes in their kitchen. He brought the product to his colleagues; Tasia brought it to hers. No one could get enough of it.
“Watching his creative process, you always know when the wheels are turning,” Tasia said. She has a theory about what she calls his genius: because Paul was never a big fan of hot sauce, his imagination isn’t limited to what most people’s idea of hot sauce is. He simply focuses on what he likes to eat and figures out how he can make a hot sauce match that.
Some products of his full-flavor, outside-the-box thinking range from a Blackberry Rum smother sauce to a Green Chili Avocado sauce; from a Maple Bacon Jalapeno sauce to a Ghost Pepper sauce.
The couple had always talked about starting their own entrepreneurial adventure, and hot sauce seemed to be the right product to start it with.
“We decided we’d go full-steam ahead and take a leap of faith, and we haven’t looked back,” Tasia said.
In 2011, both quit their jobs and dedicated themselves to Big Red’s Hot Sauce, full time. Paul brainstorms the flavors, perfects the recipes and hand-draws the labels, while Tasia assists in the kitchen and bottling processes and handles administrative duties and publicity.
“We have our lanes, and we don’t cross,” Tasia said with a laugh.
Top seller: The Smother Flavors. “We can’t seem to keep them in stock,” Tasia said. “They’re sweet, spicy and savory, all at the same time.”
Favorites: Paul: “I can’t pick one; they’re all my babies. But my go-to is 15-time, award-winning God’s Wrath Ghost Pepper sauce on pizza.” Tasia: “My go-to is the original, and Prickly Pear Sweet & Spicy and Smokey Habanero.”
What’s new at the stand: A Banana Reaper Split will be coming soon.
The family is based in Phoenix, Arizona, but is spending the summer on their “ALL ABOARD Flavor Tour.”
“We said, ‘Why keep it in one place? Let’s take it on the road,’” Tasia said. “You’re working, but you get to travel.”
In the past three months, the Fords have put 22,000 miles on their vehicle, visiting farmers markets, festivals and shows across the country, with company and help from their young children.
“This has given us a freedom we didn’t have prior to it,” Tasia said. “Before (Big Red’s), we rarely saw our kids or each other.”
“We’re both very passionate about why we do this,” Paul said. “It’s a great thing to work with my partner and the love of my life, and to enjoy what we’re doing.”
He added, “It’s always about the hot sauce. But after working a 15-hour day, we need to shut (talk of hot sauce) off.”
In creating Big Red’s together, Tasia and Paul agree they’ve learned to rely on each other in new ways, and deepened and strengthened their bond as a couple.
They’re establishing a hot sauce base and manufacturing system in Colorado, which they consider their second home. Unlike many small packaged food businesses, they produce their own product with the help of five workers, rather than outsourcing its production.
This is Big Red’s Hot Sauce first year at the Main Street Steamboat Farmers Market. Find their stand and go on a flavor tour through eight hot sauces, learning about ingredients and pairings, every Saturday through August 31.
Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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