Posted December 4, 2004 by Nick Lindauer in Makers

A fiery brand of capitalism

Uncle Brutha was born to be a hot sauce king.

As a child, he wanted to be just like his older cousins, who put hot sauce on everything from wings to vegetables. So he did.

Uncle Brutha, a Washington native whose real name is Brennan Proctor, said he learned how to make a Denver omelet from his first book, a cookbook.

He said that knowledge helped him when, years later, tired of looking for tasty wings and hot sauces during happy hour and coming up empty, his co-workers challenged him to make some good ones. One thing led to another, and the 41-year-old entrepreneur now owns a fiery online business based in College Park, selling his specialty hot sauces to local restaurants, stores and individual customers.

Proctor said he chose College Park for the business’ virtual address because it sounded cool, and hopes more local stores start carrying his sauces soon, including the Maryland Food Co-op.

Always looking for new customers, Proctor goes to Eastern Market on Capitol Hill every weekend to give out samples of his product with his cousin and aide, university student Faruq Robinson.

Robinson, a senior music major, said getting up at 6 a.m. on the weekend and working until 6 p.m. can be hard, but it is worth it.

“We have a bunch of tortillas chips and we just stand behind the booth letting people get chips and dip it into a bowl of hot sauce,” he said.

Proctor said he also ends up selling hot sauce on the weekends with his mother and cousin – that is, if Robinson doesn’t buy it all.

“I live off the stuff,” Robinson said with a laugh. “I like a little bit of food with my hot sauce.”

Proctor said it took him 10 years after his co-workers’ challenge to make the product exactly what he wanted, and he soon became the most popular guy in town.

“I had people going nuts about the wings,” Proctor said. “I would make them for receptions and was invited everywhere. Actually, I think all the invitations I was getting were more for the wings and hot sauce than my wonderful personality.”

Proctor was working in the music industry when he decided to bottle his hot sauces and give them out as gifts. He said soon he was getting more jobs with the hot sauces than music. In 2002, with digital downloading hurting the industry, Proctor decided to switch his focus to the hot sauces and put them on the market.

He started with Uncle Brutha’s Fire Sauce No. 10 and Fire Sauce No. 9. No. 10 mixes the four hottest and flavorable chilies with “a little extra kick of flavor,” while No. 9 blends green Serrano chili pepper, ginger, garlic, cilantro and green onion to produce a “southwestern kick with an Asian flair,” according to his website.

Rahman Harper, a chef at B. Smiths, a southern Creole-cajun restaurant in Washington, said clients love the hot sauces. Harper, known as “Chef Roc,” said he is an avid fan.

“I’ve seen a lot of sauces where there is a lot of spice but no flavor,” he said. “But Uncle Brutha’s hot sauces don’t just taste like fire; they’re spicy but have flavor and zest. They’re versatile.”

Proctor got his nickname from a pet name his sister gave him. As children, he called her “sista” and he called her “brotha,” so when she had a son, Proctor said, “Well, I guess now my name is Uncle Brutha.” He used his nickname for his business, adding a unique spelling.

Catherine Alexander, an employee at the Glut Food Co-op in Mount Rainier, said when Proctor first came in to present the product, she had never heard of it, but was pleased with the sample. She said the co-op ordered only two cases of each sauce last month to test their popularity, but has placed an order for many more.

“We never had to plug it to the customers,” she said. “Customers plug it themselves.”

Proctor said he is lucky so many people have been so interested in his product, but said he feels a little bit overwhelmed.

“Things are really taking off, but I need to find help so that I can stay on top of everything. I don’t want little things to fall through the cracks,” Proctor said. “I need some time too, lately I’ve been a fast food junkie.”

Proctor hopes to see his business expand and proudly boasts the awards he won last month. No. 10 won second place in the Hot Sauce-Habanero/No Extract Category as part of the Zest Fest put on by Chili Pepper magazine. It was his first major trade show, and there were more than 800 entries in 75 categories.

Nick Lindauer

The Original Hot Sauce Blog