“Large or small, they may only have one or two sauces and it helps them get out in front of the public”
Barry Shannon of Barry’s Hot Sauce and John Kasper, co-owner of Whitehouse Station Sauce Company, met at the NYC Hot Sauce Expo last October. It was a fun spicy affair, but the pair also wanted to bring the same kind of visibility to hot sauce in Boston.
“We really look forward to seeing the same folks every year,” Kasper said about showing his sauces at annual festivals. “They like our stuff and come back for more.”
Kasper, who began making hot sauce to cure his acid reflux, said his business grew from creating a “fanbase” through expos. And now they can count a local fest among those opportunities.
The first-annual Boston Hot Sauce Festival last weekend in Somerville featured 23 artisanal hot sauce-making brands, including co-organizers Kasper and Barry’s own small businesses. They also partnered with two local breweries for tastings at the festival—Somerville-based Remnant Brewing, and Everett-based Bone Up Brewing Company.
The hot sauce vendors were almost all local from the New England area and New York City, except Newks Hot Sauce from Portland, Oregon. The festival also hosted live music, and each vendor had a booth, similar to a farmer’s market.
“Large or small, they may only have one or two sauces and it helps them get out in front of the public and if their stuff’s good, that’s a way to help them get exposure,” Kasper said. “Mom and pop and husband and wife teams, it’s a great way to get them exposure and repeat sales.”
Shannon moved to the United States from Ireland in 2013 and began bartending at the Druid in Cambridge. He made hot sauce at home for himself, but when he began bringing bottles to the bar, regulars started asking for more.
“I was like, Look, if you want me to keep making hot sauce every other week for ya, you have to start paying me for it, and then they kind of did,” he said. “People are buying it off me by the case and that’s kind of when I knew I kind of had something.”
Shannon said that other hot sauce festivals create a community, both among other makers and with other food businesses. He noted that during the Boston Hot Sauce Festival, local restaurants had spicy specials for the weekend, and it also lined up with Somerville’s Porchfest.
“Everyone has their own style, they do their own thing, and, you know, they’re obviously in competition, but there’s definitely a sense of camaraderie involved as well,” he said. “It’s brilliant timing-wise for the area.”
It was Boston’s first dedicated hot sauce festival, or even spicy food fest, so “it’s not really as mainstream yet as it might seem,” Shannon said. He added that the festival will help localize the hot sauce business to New England.
Both Shannon and Kasper said this year’s festival was relatively small, but they have hopes for a bigger future, including more vendors and spicy food eating contests.
“It’s pretty much a break-even event, but definitely the plan is to sow the seed this year, and hopefully other vendors can make a little bit of money, get a bit of exposure,” Shannon said.