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Josh Lines’ decision to make and market Canada’s own hot sauce came when he reached for a condiment while enjoying a meal. He knew his options would be limited to Frank’s or Tabasco, and wondered why Canada didn’t have its own version.
At that moment, he decided to make his own hot sauce, but Lines understood it couldn’t be a knock-off of existing products. His products would be distinctly Canadian and something people would consider using even if they didn’t like hot sauce.
“I sent a couple of messages to my friend Wayne (Blythe), who is a culinary scientist,” said Lines, the proprietor of Sarnia-based Top Shelf Collection of hot sauces.
“We did a test batch – he knows the exact right amounts of spices and percentages of pepper to put in and the right amount of lime juice to balance the pH properly for a long shelf life. So he took the idea I gave him and made it something beautiful.”
Lines’ initial plan was to start small and slowly grow the business. But his new hot sauce was so savoury, he said, that he decided to aim for the stars.
Feedback from customers, colleagues and others was universally favourable, Lines said.
“Nobody didn’t like it.”
Only a few months after its development, Top Shelf Collection’s Front Street Heat is now featured in 23 local restaurants and bars and can be found in several local grocery stores. They include Bright’s Grove’s Foodland, Confederation Street’s Davy Jones Meats, Point Edward’s The Cheese Store and Front Street’s Pure Local Organics.
“It literally pairs with everything,” he said. “The fun thing about this product is that people who get their hands on it are putting things on social media and messaging me, telling me what they’re making with it. It’s insane the things it’s being used for.”
Carly McFadden, Top Shelf Collection’s social media guru, agrees.
“Almost everyone who tries it says ‘I don’t even like hot sauce, but I love this’,” she said. “It’s pretty overwhelming.”
The secret to making a successful hot sauce isn’t much of a secret, Lines said. Just use natural ingredients (Front Street Heat uses lime juice instead of vinegar), make it versatile and make it unique.
“Most hot sauces are very heavily vinegar-based. They’re basically a combination of some kind of peppers and vinegars mashed up. And of course there are about 4,000 variations of hot sauces that will burn your face off, but I didn’t think that’s where I wanted to go,” he said.
To celebrate their success, and to thank businesses for their support, Top Shelf Collection will be holding a hot sauce festival of sorts on Aug. 25. It’s called The Heat Off Front Street. For the price of a $15 ticket, participants can preview some of Top Shelf’s hot sauces while taking in a wide variety of entertainment, McFadden said.
The event will be held on the front lawns of Paddy Flaherty’s and Stokes Bay (on Seaway Road) in Sarnia, Lines said.
Lines, meanwhile, is already looking beyond Lambton County’s borders.
“I want this to be Canada’s hot sauce,” he said. “Nobody else has marketed a Canadian hot sauce and I can’t understand for the life of me why.”
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IF YOU GO
WHAT: Top Shelf Collection’s The Heat Off Front Street
WHEN: Friday, Aug. 25, from 6 p.m. to midnight
WHERE: Front lawns of Paddy Flaherty’s and Stokes Bay Restaurants, Seaway Road, Sarnia
TICKETS: $15, available at heatofffrontstreet.brownpapertickets.com
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