Posted August 16, 2006 by Nick Lindauer in Makers

Meet Your Maker #13 – Jim Campbell

Today is the big day for Jim, the day he’s going to climb 66,000 stairs. The equivalent of over 35 runs up the Empire State Building. The man jhas been training for so long, he must have buns o steel by now! Jim, thank you for your involvement in the chilehead world and all that you are doing for the charities out there. Best of luck to you today, looking forward to your wife giving us updates.

Jim Campbell

1. Why hot sauce? Where did the idea come from for you to get involved doing this?
The idea for hot sauce was a natural extension from the chile pepper growing business. My original start in the biz was selling chiles to folks all over the country- they would pay me in sauces many times & I’d re-sell those to make my money. Only problems were, the margins on re-selling weren’t that great and it meant committing more time to working festivals and such to sell other folks’ stuff! I thought I could do at least as well if I did some of my own- that ol’ value added idea and all. Additionally, I was hand delivering the chiles in a lot of cases- getting off from my 24 hour shift at the firehouse, driving to Denver CO (20 hours each way), dropping off the chiles, and driving straight back to the firehouse with only a few hours to spare.
Something had to give 😉 I was already turning the chiles into mash for Blair and so sauce making was a very easy next step.

2. If you had to pick a favorite sauce yours, which would it be?
My favorite ones to use are both from my milder end. My Chipotle Sauce (formerly known as “Smokin’ Chipotle” till I discovered that is the registered trademarked name of someone else) is probably the best all around use, though it is a bit sweet- kind of like a BBQ sauce. It’s won the most awards and is also one of my best sellers. For a standard ‘hot sauce’, it would be my Rookie Orientation. It’s a cayenne based sauce with a ton of garlic- think Franks or Durkees with a LOT more attitude and heavy garlic. Can’t have too much garlic 🙂

3. Any new products we should be ready for from your line?
Ideas are the cheap part of this business 🙂 I’ve many, many ideas that I’d like to see come to fruition but it is expensive to take a sauce from drawing board to sales floor. Having said that, you’ll likely see me come out with a fatalii sauce next spring after this crop comes in. I’d also like to have another sauce for the milder end, having the wilder side pretty well convered 😉

4. Where do you see the future of hot sauce 5 years from now? 10? 20?
The $64,000 question! Increasing governmental regulation is probably the single biggest obstacle to food production. Political blame aside, the re-organization of the FDA under the Homeland Security Department (Food Bio-terrorism Saftey Act) stands to eliminate a lot of folks from the market. The cost of meeting the regulations, which are ever changing, are substantial and form a significant barrier to start ups, especially manufacturing. There is tremendous consolidation going on in the food industry as a whole and I expect that the chile pepper biz will see consolidation as well. It’s already well underway- the actual number of original sauces out there is a fraction of the actual number of sauces out there, and the number of manufacturers smaller still.
Folks would be absolutely amazed at the number of labels that go on the exact same sauce. The days of ‘home made’ sauces are rapidly drawing to a close. Anyone who wants to become ‘known’ will soon run into the “we’re from the government and we’re here to help” scenario. The same folks that insist that my 90 year old, crippled aunt be searched to make sure she isn’t carrying a bomb onto a plane are now out to apply that logic to the food industry. If anyone thinks *that’s* a good idea, I’ve several 3rd world, wives of senior government officials, recently widowed who need your help in giving you millions of dollars who’d like to talk to you 😉

5. What is your favorite sauce that you don’t make?
Blair’s original Original Death Sauce (before he cranked it up). The single best Louisianna style, vinegar based sauce there is!
Road to Hell, from Two Chefs. Just an outstanding sauce in all
respects- perfect heat, great flavor, versatile, and chunky.
CaJohns’ Sparky. Gotta love a good Cayenne sauce 🙂

6. Do you eat the sauce you make?
Yup, though it cycles. We’re grilling a lot at the firehouse these days & so we’re going through the Original Finishing Sauce and the Chipotle sauce by the gallon.

7. What do you eat hot sauce on?
It would be a lot easier to name what I *don’t* eat hot sauce on. That would be one item only- a good rare steak. You come near my steak with anything, even a good a sauce as Brian’s Lava, you’re gonna get a fork stuck into you. Other than that, hot sauce goes on (or in) grilled cheese, hamburgers, soups, pastas, lasagne, biscuits & gravy, eggs, and most every other various and sundry burnt dead animal parts we eat…
except steak.

8. What sets you aside from the other hot sauce producers out there today?
Yuck- I’m going to come across as ‘holier than thou’ and that will make a waste of my ill spent youth 😉 Every producer is going to say ‘quality, customer service, versatility’ or the like. I’ll toss them in as well, but I think there are two things that set me apart. The first is that I grow my own chiles. That alone puts me in pretty rarified company. Most chiles are purchased in bulk on the open market and it is sometimes a crap shoot as to what you get. If Cajohn would move his manufacturing here, these sauces could just about be considered ‘estate bottled’. From seed to label and every step in between, I’m involved.

Easy enough as the one and only employee of the company 😉 The second thing that I think sets me apart is principle. I have a real job and that gives me the luxury of falling on my sword in the chile pepper biz if necessary. I won’t do toilet humor labels. Period. No judgements on those who do, that’s just not who I am and I will not compromise that for the sake of a quick (or multiple) sales. My mantra has been ‘It’s not what’s *ON* it, it’s what’s *IN* it’. There are very few jerks in the chile pepper biz (thankfully) but there are some. One or two could likely very much help my sales or lower my production costs. No thanks. I’d rather count CaJohn, Blair and Dave, among my friends then make an extra nickle on the bottle… even if it means living a limited life in the chile pepper biz. I can also add that I’ve a college degree in Fire Science 😛

Another item that sets me aside is that over 90% of all orders go out the door with a free item included- whether it’s another sauce or a bottle of powder, I try to enclose a more tangible ‘thank you’ than a note 😉

9. What is your inspiration before you embark on a new concoction?

See what CaJohn or some of the other industry leaders are doing 🙂 “R & D” in the food biz, means ‘rob & duplicate’ 😛 Seriously though, the inpsiration is most likely a perceived need, either personal or customer driven. If I find myself needing a sauce for a particular food, such as Italian, I’d be inspired to maybe come up with a spicy marinara style sauce. Occasionally, customers will demand something as well. I’m under pressure to come up with a steak sauce (ugh!). I had one a decade or so ago, but it fell by the wayside.

10. Outside of creating hot products, what else keeps you occupied or out of trouble?
You gotta be kidding! NOTHING seems to keep me out of trouble.
http://www.StepUpForCharity.org for the moment. Professional firefighting for another. Trying to stay married keeps me VERY occupied. Travel, when I can. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

11. Any weird stories or uses for your hot sauce that you would like to share?

I wouldn’t know where to start! I’ve hundreds of them. Most will be in the book, which I hope will come out later next year. They’d be waaaayyy too long for the blog, I’m afraid. There’s the “Great Red
Savina(R) Road Trip”, habanero underwear, habanero hazmat stirfry evacuation, and many others. Any story I tell usually is pretty wordy

12. How much sauce do you make in a week?
Ask CaJohn 🙂 When I made it, it would vary from none (on slow weeks) to several hundred gallons (on busy weeks). I’d often work 24 to 36 hours straight on my ‘off days’ from the FD to crank out mash or sauce.
A lot (most!) of that was sauce for other folks- CaJohn was killin’ me!
My actual needs are pretty small. My sales (of sauce) are quite small compared to most anyone. Folks are pretty surprised to find I still get excited if I get two or three orders in a day 🙂 A lot of days there are none.

13. How many different recipes do you go through when developing a new sauce?
Not many. After almost 20 years now at this, I pretty well know straight off what I want done. Experimentation can be expensive.

14. How did you get started in the industry?
I’d been growing chiles all my life. I cannot remember back to a time when I wasn’t planting chiles, and my memories go back pretty far 😉 My parents were gardners, out of necessity with ten kids, so we always got to pick stuff to plant. I always chose chiles because I thought they were neat. When I got involved in the fire service (not that one, the *other* one), I was drying them out & taking them in for cooking.

Each year, my fellow friefighters would have me plant a few for them and so the garden was getting bigger and bigger. I’m only a little slow- it only took about ten years of this & it finally dawned on me that their might be a business at this. I threw a handful of habanero seeds in the ground and, when they started to produce, ordered a mixed case of hot sauces out of a catalog. I started calling the numbers on the bottles, looking mainly for East Coast & Midwest producers, to see if they’d be interested in someone growing habaneros in Indiana. I figured I could save them a fortune on shipping as habs were tough to come by back then & were mostly shipped up from the Yucatan or California. As fate (or karma 😉 would have it, one of the first people I spoke to was a restaraunt owner out in New Jersey who was thinking of going big time with his sauces and was very interested. A few others also expressed interest and I set out to then be the biggest chile pepper farmer in the world. Of course, I’m only a little slow- it only took about 3 years of that before I discovered that ‘farming sucks’! We now seamlessly transition up to the beginning of this interview and review the answer to question #1 🙂

15. What is your biggest challenge so far?
Keeping up with demand and competing within NAFTA, ie- trying to make a bloody nickel! Demand for my chiles far, FAR exceeds my meager ability to produce them. Just ask CaJohn, Melindas, or any of the many other folks I’ve had to say ‘nope- sorry, all out’ to. Several large farming cooperatives are starting to form and that is going to drive production up and prices down. Good for you now, bad for me now, bad for you later. My labor costs are substantially higher here yet I still must compete with places that have dirt cheap labor costs.

16. What is the most common question you get?
One- “I had this pepper once & it was hot. Can you tell me what it was? It was red and pointy.”
Two- “I r wants to be in duh chilly peper bidnus. Can u tell me what I needs to no?”

17. What do you want to know from the readers of the HSB?
What’s the next big thing? This is the question that one must always try to answer. Succesfully guessed ‘habanero’ and then ‘Red Savina(R)’ and am pondering ‘what now’.

18. What’s a typical day for you?

Up at 3:30 AM, spend some time in the office (HSBlog!!) before heading off to the firehouse at 5 AM. Shift change with the off going Lieutenant at 7 AM. Figure out the days schedule (while blogging 😉 Answer calls as they come in. First call last day was a guy that rear-ended a tractor trailer & left parts of his face and brains on the dash. Had to extricate him- he was still alive at the time. Clean up equipment & back to training, working out, or blogging. Off duty at 7 AM the following day & off to the stair stepper. Several thousand stairs later, head home, grab a glass of wine or port and do a face plant on the bed. I guess that’s actually two days, but 48 hours is a typical ‘day’ for me 🙂

19. Worst burn ever?
Hmmmm…. 2 mil oleoresin right between the eyes. 2 gallons of 185 F habanero mash on top of the head. 5 ounces of 190 F Red Savina(R) Garlic sauce in the lap. Kind of tough to choose 😉

20. Best burn ever?
Vaporizing the hi temp, polycarbonate face shield off of my helmet while heading into a fully involved garage attached to a house 🙂 That’s what we call ‘a good un’.

Mild to Wild Pepper & Herb Co
81 Martin Place
Franklin, IN 46131-1745

Nick Lindauer

The Original Hot Sauce Blog