Sauce expert enjoys adding spice to life
b LANE FILLER
BEAR CREEK TWP. – Ho ho ho, hot hot hot.
This winter, Ray McKnight makes his living uttering the Santa slogan on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday at Wyoming Valley Mall. The rest of the week, and the rest of the year, the focus is on hot.
McKnight owns Flamerz II, located on Bear Creek Boulevard, or state Route 115. The store sells hundreds of items, 99 percent of them devoted to the pursuit of spicy flavor perfection. McKnight also sells at the Blakeslee Flea Market on weekends.
Hot sauce companies compete over heat, but also over originality of names and labels.
There’s Pocono Mountain Road Kill, the sauce for when you’re “not sure if it’s safe to eat.” There’s Slap Yo Mama, a cajun rub.
There are celebrity sauces, such as Cheech’s Gnarly Garlic, produced by legendary pretend stoner Cheech Marin, and Tonya’s Hot Sauce, which features a picture of a blonde skater and bears the slogan “not for the weak-kneed,” a reference to skater Tonya Harding.
Ron Howard has a sauce, as does Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, and McKnight sells sauces to appeal to local memories, particularly the Super Hot XXX Sauce that will “burn you longer than the Centralia Mine Fire.”.
But McKnight didn’t set out to spend his life selling the stuff.
“I was a riverboat pilot and docking master in Philadelphia,” said McKnight, 46, “but I got hurt and I had to give it up.”
McKnight lives with his wife, Sherri, in Thornhurst, where a home that once served for vacations has become their full-time abode.
The interest in hot stuff started after the accident, when McKnight helped a friend at the original Flamerz on the Wildwood Boardwalk. Later, McKnight opened a kiosk at Wyoming Valley Mall to sell the spicy stuff, then got his store going.
“I like hot food, I like a lot of these sauces, but I don’t like the insanely hot stuff,” McKnight said. “I’m not trying to prove anything.”
That’s good, because the hottest items McKnight sells – extracts – could land anyone who tastes or even touches them in the hospital.
Heat in sauce and chili peppers is measured by the Scoville unit. A jalapeno might rate 5,000 Scovilles, a very hot habanero (also called a Scotch Bonnet) might come in at 300,000 Scovilles.
But McKnight sells an extract called The Source, which rates 10 million Scovilles and is $125 per ounce, could seriously injure or even kill someone who ingested much of it.
The Santa gig started just last year, and McKnight said it’s a challenge.
“I tell the kids Santa can’t put quads or anything with gas engines on the sleigh, and I never promise them a gift,” McKnight said. “I tell them some things fall off the sleigh because the elves don’t tie them down properly.”
So McKnight deals with the public every day, and mostly likes it. One thing you shouldn’t ask him for, though, is “something really hot to play a trick on a friend.”
“I don’t like that,” McKnight said. “I think it’s wrong and dangerous, so when people ask I just say ‘Why don’t you taste it first and see if it does the trick.’ That usually shuts them up, one way or another.”
Lane Filler, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 829-7250.
Flamerz II sells hot sauces, rubs, marinated olives and pickles and extracts, as well as T-shirts, jerky makers, walking sticks and knick-knacks. The store opens at noon, Thursday-Sunday, closing at 7 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, 8 p.m. Friday and 4:30 p.m. Sunday. The store is located at 3381 Bear Creek Blvd., and the phone number is 822-2204.