SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Have you ever wondered what it takes to make a great hot sauce?
Greg Hornak of Greg’s Famous had that question when they graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2014 with a BFA in film.
“You know, the typical, like, graduate from college,” Hornak said in an interview on Thursday. “I didn’t know what to do, was super broke.”
Enter: Angel’s BBQ, a since-closed restaurant that was run by Andrew and Tracie Trice. Hornak used to go there regularly while in college.
“It was one of those places that would make Guy Fieri foam at the mouth,” Hornak said.
What made this beloved barbecue spot extra special for Hornak? Their hot sauce. According to Hornak, one of their site specialties was their super-hot hot sauce.
They used Carolina Reapers before they were widely available in grocery store hot sauces, but beyond that, they also mixed in fruits to create something truly unique.
Hornak said that they were used to hot sauce, having grown up with a mother who loved spicy things and having attended hot sauce festivals in their native Texas.
“I’d still never tasted anything quite like that like, where you can really taste the different flavors of the super, super brutally hot peppers,” they said.
Hornak used to talk with Andrew about the hot sauce at Angel’s, both the process of making the sauce and the sauce itself. Hornak said Andrew taught them a lot about the different types of heat that come with a hot sauce.
“The owners of angels were always very kind and welcoming to me,” they said.
Angel’s BBQ closed down right around the time that Hornak graduated.
“I was in need of like really good hot sauce,” they explained.
There weren’t hot sauces at stores that piqued Hornak’s interest, and on top of that, the ones that were available were filled with preservatives and additives. They realized that it would be cheaper for them to go to Kroger and make their own hot sauce than it would be to purchase the product. As a recent graduate with little funds, the idea made sense.
For a few years, that was all it was: personally made hot sauce for just them to enjoy. Occasionally, Hornak would share the hot sauce with friends.
Then, they got involved in a queer art and music collective. Along with their friends and roommates, they were able to get more involved in the community, playing music and putting on shows. The shows were mostly house shows, and Hornak would oftentimes make dinner for everyone to enjoy.
Always at the ready when people were digging in? Hornak’s hot sauce.
“The sauce would just always be there and part of what I would do,” they said.
Soon, Hornak and two of their roommates decided to go on a tour of the Southeast. They realized that while their roommates had merch, there was nothing at hand for them to sell.
“I was like, well, I need some merch, you know, give me give me a little bit of extra cash to get through this tour,” they said.
Then, an idea popped into Hornak’s head. What if they sold some of their hot sauce?
Hornak started small, making only a dozen bottles. They had never made more than one before, so this was something new.
“They sold halfway through the tour. I was all already out,” they said.
Then, things really start heating up.
Hornak sold their product at Savannah’s Fox and Fig Cafe, while they also served food as an employee.
Now, their hot sauce is sold in five locations across Savannah and Tybee Isand, including Graveface Museum, Inferno Tybee and Savannah Hydroponics, along with the original site at Fox and Fig Cafe.
They currently make their hot sauce at Unforgettable Bakery on Southside, owned by Belinda Baptiste.
“She has been just incredibly supportive from like, even before day one,” they said. With her help, Hornak said their sauces have become more complex and more well thought out.
Hornak said one of the keys to crafting sauce is paying attention to the growing season.
Hornak said they try to avoid importing ingredients whenever possible, but the off-season makes it difficult.
During the off-season, they have to import their peppers, but for the rest of the ingredients, they do their best to source locally.
“It starts with a visit to the farmers’ market,” they said. From there, it’s time to look at what’s available seasonally and extrapolate what goes best with what’s available.
Are there blueberries being sold at the market? What goes well with blueberries? What about strawberries? Peaches?
“What else can I do with that to kind of give this particular hot sauce more of a personality?” Hornak posed.
After deciding on the ingredients, the rest is simple. Hornak said they cook what needs to be cooked, peel and blend their ingredients and then pasteurize the results. Finally, it’s time to bottle the hot sauce up and get it ready to go.
How many bottles do they make a week? Right now, in the off-season, it’s 50 to 100 per batch, but that will all be changing once the on-season starts.
“It’s gonna have to be hundreds of bottles per batch,” Hornak stated.
Recently, their logo was redesigned by a New York record label and designer by the name of DEATHBYSHEEP.
They also recently began selling hot sauce at Sea Wolf on Tybee. The hot sauce has crawfish stock, oyster mushrooms and kelp vinegar to name a few ingredients.
Looking to the future, Hornak said they have a lot in store.
They are in talks with several restaurants and stores to start selling their hot sauce in even more places. They will continue to sell at the Forsyth Farmer’s Market every Saturday and they also hope to continue expanding their business.