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Episode 137: TASTE

On this mouthwatering episode of Bonn Park, Sara and Marshall visit their favourite hot sauce emporium, Taste the 4th Sense, in the Village of St. Jacobs. With tongues tingling from tasting, they chat with owner Gerry Mischuk and manager Lea Riddle-Pitre about the incredible array of flavours available at their shop. They've got handcrafted oils, vinegars and condiments, including loads of delicious concoctions ranging from mild to mind-blowing. Gerry and Lea share their story, and how they've created the first Southwestern Ontario Hot Sauce Summit and Celebration, which happens this summer.

Episode 137: TASTE

Sara: Welcome to Bond Park, I'm Sarah Geidlinger.

Marshall: And I'm Marshall Ward.

Sara: Today we visit Taste the Fourth Sense in St. Jacobs

Sara: If you have listened to even just a handful of Bonn Park episodes, you'll learn that we are big hot sauce fans.

Sara: But I have to admit, Marshall, you gave me the side eye that time you saw me put sriracha all over my pizza that already had jalapenos on it.

Sara: Let's hear from Gerry and Lea.

Sara: Gerry and Lea, thank you so much for joining us on Bonn Park podcast.

Sara: We're very excited to have you here.

Sara: Welcome.

Gerry: Well, thanks for having us.

Sara: We're in your beautiful shop, Taste in St. Jacobs

Sara: Jacobs, just off the main strip of King on Hachborn.

Gerry: That's right.

Lea: Right.

Sara: So I'm having a hard time even looking at my equipment, trying to get started up because I'm picking up bottles and I'm looking at all these beautiful things that you have to offer here.

Gerry: Well, my name is Gerry and I'm the owner.

Gerry: I've been doing this now, well, over 20 years here in the village of St. Jacobs

Gerry: I was going over with Marshall.

Gerry: This is our fifth location in the village.

Gerry: Now we seem to keep moving as the times change.

Gerry: And I've been waiting for a long time to be able to find a building like this.

Gerry: And there aren't too many this size in the village.

Gerry: And what I always wanted to do and envisioned was incorporating the manufacturing of the products we make into the retail environment so that we could offer them right on the premises.

Gerry: And the building became available and I jumped on it.

Gerry: And here we are, 2000 feet of glorious hot sauce and other goodies.

Sara: Yeah.

Sara: Right behind me and Marshall.

Sara: Here is the wall of hot sauce.

Sara: It's absolutely gorgeous.

Sara: Lea, tell us about yourself.

Lea: Yeah, I met Gerry a few months ago when I interviewed for a job at Taste.

Lea: And like I said, I just sort of lucked into this position.

Lea: I'm a foodie.

Lea: I love to cook.

Lea: I love to feed people.

Lea: And we are all about making food taste good.

Lea: So I have many years of education in management and retail management.

Lea: Specifically, I came from the furniture industry, and this is much more up my alley.

Lea: So we've built a very good team of foodies and people that love to eat and love to share recipes and have things that taste good.

Lea: So I'm here.

Lea: I'm here to stay.

Marshall: For me, a serious hot sauce enthusiast, to me this emporium is more like an art gallery.

Marshall: I could just gaze for hours at these little bottles and blazoned with all this color and illustrations

Marshall: It must be fascinating to be surrounded by this.

Lea: It's a beautiful store.

Lea: There's so much to look at.

Lea: We learn something new every day.

Lea: As the manager, I make it my priority to order foods and sauces that taste good.

Lea: So everything that comes to the door, we taste it immediately as soon as it comes to the door, which, honestly, is the best part of my job.

Lea: We kind of eat nonstop here, but it's fascinating to look at.

Lea: We Learn new stories about the products, we engage with the customers, which is honestly, the best part is people are very passionate when it comes to food, when you're sharing food, when you're sharing that experience, and that's the environment of our store is really interactive, upbeat, and it is kind of like an art gallery.

Lea: We love to show people stuff.

Lea: Our very first question is, have you been here before?

Lea: And if they say no, it is on.

Lea: We are making you sample.

Lea: We're giving you everything.

Lea: We want you to taste these products.

Lea: And that's why we're called Taste, because that is the most important sense in what we're doing.

Gerry: One of the most common comments that we get here on weekends is, my God, everything tastes so good in this store.

Gerry: And our rebuttal is, why would I sell you something that tasted like crap?

Gerry: There are other people out there that will do that gladly for you.

Gerry: So we're very selective.

Gerry: We primarily work with artists and food makers and make things in small batches with limited distribution.

Gerry: Most of the stuff that we carry the general public has probably never seen before, and that's why the sampling and the tasting of the product is mandatory.

Gerry: Heat is such a subjective thing that everybody perceives it differently, and everybody has a different reaction to it.

Gerry: So you need to give people the ability to solidify their own tolerance and where they can go and where they want to go.

Sara: But your store contains things that some people haven't seen before.

Sara: So when we came in, Marshall was, of course, excited to show me a few things right away.

Sara: What was this one with the Bible on it?

Marshall: Salvation Sauce.

Sara: Salvation Sauce.

Sara: And it comes with an actual miniature Bible, so I'll be taking one of those home for sure.

Marshall: Magnifying glass.

Marshall: You can actually.

Gerry: Yeah, you can actually read it.

Lea: I think that's fantastic.

Sara: And then, of course, you've got this Canadian section.

Sara: Tell us all about this, because as soon as we start talking about it, we're talking about Erik Begg from Sorry Sauce, Villain Sauce Company…

Sara: Marie Sharps, Ginger Goat, Wicked Smart…

Sara: Who else are we talking about that’s local?

Sara: Island Son, right?

Marshall: Yeah.

Marshall: So many.

Gerry: Well, this is Lea's thing to do, and her goal is to probably convert the store to 80% Canadian product.

Gerry: We would like to get through the pandemic.

Gerry: It's been a pain in the a** to import the stuff, and you never know what you're going to get.

Gerry: And it's just been a nightmare.

Gerry: So we decided to do the Canadian section, and when people come in the store, that's where they gravitate, too.

Sara: I like to hear that.

Sara: Tell us more.

Lea: Well, I think that when I started this, I came in, like I said, from the furniture industry and during COVID.

Lea: When COVID first started, the furniture industry was hit really hard with supplies, and we couldn't get any furniture because everything came from overseas.

Lea: And I really started to appreciate Canadian manufacturers at that point.

Lea: Not that I hadn't before, but when you're selling product, you sell what you sell.

Lea: Now I have an opportunity to support the community in the Tri cities areas with Kitchener Waterloo, Cambridge and surrounding.

Lea: We have so many established and up and coming sauce makers.

Lea: The hot and spicy trend is so current, everybody's getting on board with it, and we're a small business.

Lea: We're never going to be a large corporation.

Lea: That's not who we are.

Lea: We want to support those small businesses.

Lea: We want to support local.

Lea: And especially during the pandemic, everyone is just trying to make it through.

Lea: And as a community, we need to come together and make that happen.

Lea: It's one of the great things about being in the village is that St. Jacobs is very community oriented, and we support local people here.

Lea: They support us.

Lea: We want to support local hot sauce makers, and they support us.

Lea: We've made some great friends in the industry.

Lea: Kris from Ginger Goat, Jeff from Island Son.

Lea: They've both been really great to us.

Lea: We've met some legends in the hot sauce industry, and I'm hoping to meet more.

Lea: So definitely expanding.

Lea: I think taking our store to 80% Canadian product by the end of the year is absolutely doable and will be successful.

Sara: It's ambitious, but you're right, it's doable.

Lea: Yeah.

Marshall: I think about how when I first discovered taste, as Gerry said, I would have seen a lot of hot sauce that I had never seen before.

Marshall: The first three that I probably got hooked on immediately was Marie Sharps, Melinda's, and Ring of Fire.

Marshall: Just three outstanding sausages.

Gerry: Three of the best on the planet.

Marshall: At the same time, I realized you were making your own oils, and what we did was you became a destination for any time.

Marshall: We needed a pizza oil or something like that or maybe a grapeseed oil.

Marshall: And those are beautiful, gorgeous gifts.

Marshall: You can see the love in them and how they were made now that you've moved locations.

Marshall: There's been enormous growth in that part of your business.

Gerry: Oh, huge.

Marshall: Yeah.

Marshall: Tell us about that.

Gerry: Well, we're up to 40 products now that we're making here or packaging here on the premises that bear our label.

Gerry: As you know, years ago I converted to grapeseed oil.

Gerry: The market was becoming deluged with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Gerry: And these shops were opening all over the place, but you started to notice them closing as quickly as they were opening.

Gerry: And quite frankly, I'm enamored with grapeseed oil.

Gerry: It's a pleasure to work with.

Gerry: It's claim to fame above everything else other than its high smoke point of 485 degrees.

Gerry: It has the lowest level of saturated fat of any processed oil on the market.

Gerry: And you're talking olive oil coming in at about 13% saturated fat on average.

Gerry: You're looking at a grapeseed oil at only 5% dramatic.

Gerry: So when you start using these oils, using them as butter substitutes, every time you do that, you're reducing the saturated fat from 49% to merely 5%.

Gerry: Huge benefits loaded with antioxidants.

Gerry: But probably the biggest reason for working with it is grapeseed oil into itself is very neutral in flavor.

Gerry: It has no distinct flavor at all.

Gerry: So when you put a flavor into it, it comes out massive.

Gerry: When you're working with olive oil, you've got that inherent flavor to get by before you can pick up the subtleties of what's behind it.

Gerry: So for us, grapeseed oil is heaven.

Gerry: And we're starting to educate people on that and showing them the benefits.

Gerry: And it's a little hard to find sometimes, but it's out there in the marketplace and becoming more popular now that we have a significant wine industry in Canada and in California, they'll start producing local grapeseed oil, but they're not doing that at this point.

Gerry: It's still imported that we're working with.

Sara: And in a world where we're just inundated with canola oils and everything that we're eating, I mean, it's in like soy milk, organic bouillon cubes, like veggie bouillon cubes.

Sara: Canola oil, it's in everything that you can open up in your cupboard.

Sara: And we always hear about the health benefits of olive oil.

Sara: And not enough people are talking about grapeseed oil.

Gerry: They should be.

Gerry: And while that's part of our job is educating them, taking by the hand and say, here, taste this and compare it to what you've been using in the past.

Gerry: From day one.

Gerry: Since we introduced this, our garlic grapeseed oil has been the biggest selling product of everything that we carry in the store.

Gerry: And for good reason.

Gerry: I mean, it's probably the most popular flavoring and seasoning that you can find.

Gerry: And here it is in a really practical bottle and easy to use.

Gerry: If you want it, don't pull out the clove and squeeze it.

Gerry: It's right here in a bottle for you.

Gerry: Just pour it on.

Gerry: And it has been great.

Gerry: And following that is the lemon.

Gerry: And then we've introduced some new flavors.

Gerry: We've introduced a chipotle, we've introduced a curry, we've introduced a dill, and we've introduced a basil.

Gerry: And the flavors are really excellent.

Gerry: They're right on and very proud of them.

Gerry: And they sell well.

Gerry: I would say, on average, compared to the hot sauces, about 60% of our business goes to the products that we make right here on premises.

Marshall: That's awesome.

Marshall: How empowering is that?

Gerry: It's the key to everything.

Sara: We say this all the time on this show.

Sara: It's the key to everything, really?

Gerry: Oh, it is.

Gerry: I was mentioning to you earlier, Marshall, that if you have a few dollars in your pocket, you can be in the hot sauce business.

Gerry: You buy wholesale, you mark it up and you're retail, and there you are.

Gerry: You're a hot sauce peddler, but nobody does.

Gerry: What we do with the taste products.

Gerry: They're all our formulas that have been developed and created over years, and we don't wholesale.

Gerry: Once you get into it, you're going to have to come back to us to get it or to buy it online.

Marshall: I really appreciate how Lee is a foodie and how, like, before we start recording, we chatted and you said you've made ice cream using Island Sons’ Bajan Tyger.

Sara: That sounds amazing.

Marshall: A big part of the experience of coming to taste is not just having information about these sauces and oils, but rather sharing ideas on how they can be used.

Marshall: Do you have some favorite uses for the oils?

Marshall: I know one of the oils I would buy all the time was the hot.

Marshall: I think it was just called hot oil.

Marshall: Right, Gerry?

Gerry: Yeah, the chili oil.

Marshall: Yeah.

Marshall: You can use it in so many versatile ways.

Marshall: And what are some of your favorites?

Lea: Well, I have to say that the pizza oil, by far is my favorite because it has so many different uses.

Lea: It's got all the flavors that you would want to drizzle over a nice warm pizza, but I don't use it that way.

Lea: I actually Cook with all of these oils.

Lea: I roast potatoes, especially sweet potatoes, in the chipotle oil.

Lea: That is by far my favorite sweet potato recipe is just coat them in chipotle oil, a little bit of onion powder, throw them in the oven and they're good to go.

Sara: And then that grape seed is going to help with the crispiness on the seed.

Lea: It takes the place of any other fat that you would want to use, and it's not greasy at all.

Lea: Grapeseed oil is so thin that you could drink it and not really know that you're drinking oil because it doesn't coat your mouth.

Lea: I've been lucky enough to hire on.

Lea: One of my sales people is a trained chef, and between Her, I and our production manager, we've built a cookbook over the last few weeks, and we've come up with over 200 different recipes using taste products and a lot of the hot sauces.

Lea: But myself, I have at least four bottles of pizza oil at my house at all times because you never know when you're going to need to Bake a chicken.

Lea: And I do.

Lea: I bake the meat.

Lea: I can't say enough.

Lea: I wish I had been a part of the creation of the product because I'm so super proud of it.

Lea: But cooking with it is my passion now, and that's what we do, and that's what we talk about in the store.

Lea: So outside of saying I love the chipotle oil for sweet potatoes and I put the pizza oil on everything.

Lea: They're all really good, but those are definitely my favorites.

Lea: And those garlic, I think, has just become a staple for me.

Lea: I don't use garlic anymore.

Lea: Regular garlic.

Lea: I use the garlic oil, especially in making garlic bread, because you don't need any butter.

Lea: You just brush it onto your bread, toast it, and you're good to go.

Lea: It's delicious.

Gerry: Use it as a butter substitute on a grilled cheese sandwich.

Sara: I'm listening.

Gerry: You will not have grilled cheese any other way.

Lea: And then dip your grilled cheese into the dill pickle or bacon ketchup.

Gerry: Which we happen to carry.

Sara: I'm making a list.

Sara: You think I'm taking notes for this podcast, but I'm making a shopping list.

Marshall: So we're talking about twisted tomatoes.

Lea: Well, it's now under a taste label, so we are selling it as a taste product.

Lea: It is the base of the twisted tomato products.

Lea: And I do have a few of the twisted tomato.

Lea: Plain old boring ketchup, which has become the only ketchup that I will eat.

Sara: That's the real name?

Lea: Yes, it's the real name.

Lea: Plain old boring.

Lea: And our ketchups are made with half the sugar.

Gerry: Anthony was gracious enough to allow us to put our label on his ketchup, and we're really happy we did that.

Gerry: We move a lot of it because it is the best ketchup I've ever tasted in my life.

Marshall: The Chipotle and the Garlicious.

Gerry: And my personal favorite is the Dill Pickle, though I can't get enough.

Sara: Yeah.

Gerry: And in the morning with eggs, it's got to be the Chipotle ketchup.

Sara: Interesting.

Gerry: Just absolutely wonderful.

Sara: I like that you mentioned earlier that you wish you were involved earlier like that.

Sara: You wish that you were part of the process.

Lea: I really do.

Sara: Marshall and I talk about this with our podcast and some of the other creative projects that we do.

Sara: Like, man, this is what we were meant to do.

Lea: This is absolutely where I was meant to be.

Lea: I moved to Canada in 2008.

Lea: I emigrated from the States, and I've been in retail my whole life.

Lea: And so it was natural for me just to go back into retail.

Lea: This is retail, but it's entirely different.

Lea: And this is why I came to Canada.

Lea: Whether I knew it or not, this is why I'm here.

Sara: I think this is retail with a purpose.

Lea: It is.

Marshall: It's a beautiful story.

Gerry: I'm just so proud to have her on board.

Gerry: She's just brought a whole new vision and a whole sense of energy to what we're doing.

Gerry: And between the three ladies that we have working here, I'm proud of every one of them, but I don't know how they sleep at night because they keep coming up with these recipes that they have hundreds of that we're looking forward to doing some form of a book.

Sara: You're planning a taste cookbook?

Lea: I actually have built the taste cookbook.

Lea: We're just getting the recipes inputted now.

Lea: It's something that we would like to share the recipes online, share them in the store when people buy products, because a lot of times people come through and say, okay, now what do I do with this?

Lea: This is delicious.

Lea: I love it.

Lea: But what do I put it on?

Lea: What do I do with it?

Lea: And people come in and think, I need hot sauce for my tacos.

Lea: No, you need hot sauce for your ice cream.

Lea: You need hot sauce to fill that cheesecake you've got.

Lea: And that's the sort of thing that we do.

Lea: And when we're not under any sort of restrictions for serving food, every Saturday we cook something at least one thing.

Lea: We've always got popcorn with some of our rubs to taste the rubs because they're kind of difficult to taste dried product.

Lea: We're always creating new recipes with the product that we have.

Lea: So it only made sense to start handing those out to the customers because when we sample a product on food, we sell that product.

Lea: If it tasted bad, I wouldn't serve it to you.

Lea: I wouldn't serve it to you my home.

Lea: I'm not going to serve it to you here.

Lea: And if there's something that maybe I'm not a fan of because, for instance, I don't like the taste of habanero peppers.

Lea: 90% of hot sauces have habaneros in them.

Lea: So I have to figure out what to do with it to make it palatable for myself.

Lea: And there are other people out there that have the same issue.

Lea: They don't like the taste of a jalapeno, or maybe they think the ghost pepper is too hot.

Lea: And it is, but it tastes delicious.

Lea: So this is what you do with it.

Lea: Personally, my favorite is a Scotch bonnet pepper.

Lea: I think that Bajan Tyga from Island Son is probably my most used hot sauce at home.

Lea: And when I did the ice cream with that, and that's been months ago, I still have people coming in mentioning that ice cream to me.

Lea: In fact, the guy that does one of our advertisements, every time he comes in, he talks about that ice cream.

Lea: And so when you get interactions like that with people, it really makes it worth it.

Lea: And yeah, I kind of wish I was part of all of this sooner, but I'm here now, and we're going to take this to the next level.

Lea: Like Gerry said, we've got a great staff.

Lea: Everybody will be back full time.

Lea: We're currently on winter hours, but everyone will be back full time in just a little less than a month.

Lea: Production is ramped up, ready to go and we're really looking forward to people coming in and tasting some stuff, sampling some stuff, because otherwise it's just the three of us here creating more ideas on how to spend Gerry's money trouble.

Sara: Marshall, let's take a moment to hear from this week's sponsor.

Marshall: Gerry, do you think sometimes the longevity of a sauce or maybe an extract?

Marshall: I'll use Satan's Blood as an example.

Marshall: It's this ominous little vial.

Marshall: It's gorgeous, right?

Marshall: Sometimes the longevity of those sauces has just as much to do with the presentation as it does with the product, because there's no way someone's coming in and buying Satan's Blood every two weeks.

Gerry: You'd be surprised.

Sara: Are there people coming in for that every couple of weeks?

Gerry: I got to be really honest with you.

Gerry: Well, you've been here when there's been a lot of people in the store and you see the reaction from the people, and we just have the best time ever.

Gerry: It's been the best experience of my life, working here on weekends when the town is crowded and there's people around and to watch people's faces light up and to see their eyes rolling to the back of their heads when they sample something as one of the most gratifying experiences ever.

Gerry: And the Satan's Blood.

Gerry: I save for customers that are a little bit belligerent that I don't like.

Gerry: Yeah, this is what I sample.

Gerry: It's really strange.

Gerry: It's a bit of an enigma.

Gerry: It's only rated at 800,000 Scoville units.

Gerry: Like, right here the source.

Gerry: This is 7.1 million, which is absolutely insane.

Gerry: So we have sauces that are way hotter than the 800,000 of Satan's blood.

Gerry: But all Satan's Blood is extracting red wine vinegar.

Gerry: There's nothing else in it.

Gerry: So the minute you put it on your tongue, you go from zero to 100% instantly.

Gerry: Whereas if it's a natural pepper, it's going to start slow and build over a period of time.

Gerry: And it's going to help you climatize to that level of heat.

Gerry: But not with Satan's Blood is there and it's immediate.

Marshall: Do you understand the science of that slow burn?

Marshall: What I mean is, I think about you actually have one.

Marshall: I think it's called North Country Condiments’ Slow Burn.

Marshall: And it truly is.

Gerry: Yes.

Marshall: It takes about 20 seconds before.

Marshall: How does that work?

Marshall: Do you know?

Gerry: I just think it's the way that your brain and your body react to it.

Gerry: Your level of heat tolerance is based on the number of taste buds you have on your tongue.

Gerry: The more you have, the more sensitive you're going to be, the less heat you're going to be able to tolerate.

Gerry: So it's different from every individual.

Gerry: But a true pepper sauce should be that way.

Gerry: It should start slow and then build over a period of time.

Lea: I think it has to do with the pepper as well.

Gerry: Yes, without a doubt.

Lea: Yeah.

Lea: Because some peppers will hit you right up front, your lips and the tip of your tongue burn.

Lea: Some peppers, like the Scotch Bonnet, will hit you at the back of the mouth, the back of the throat.

Lea: I'm much happier with that burn than I am with the tip of the tongue burn because it doesn't feel like I've just eaten something that's temperature hot.

Lea: But I think that with the slow burn, it has to do with the peppers that they're using and the preparation because your preparation affects not only your Scoville units.

Lea: And people get confused with Scoville.

Lea: It's not arbitrary in any manner, but it's very subjective to Scoville because the pepper itself could be a million Scoville.

Lea: But by the time you've prepared it, you've diluted it, you've broken it down, you've added other ingredients to it.

Lea: Your sauce is not a million Scoville.

Lea: And so people, based on their request on the Scoville units, is really kind of misguided.

Lea: And again, that's where we come in.

Lea: That's great.

Lea: I want to give the customers what they want.

Lea: I also want them to know what heat level they really are, which is why we separate it from mildest.

Lea: We go mildest medium hot, and then Yow!, because Yow! is where you forget who you are.

Lea: And those are the peppers that burn everywhere, tip of the tongue all the way through.

Lea: And then the milder ones, they may not burn it all just depending on who you are.

Lea: But with things like Satan's Blood that are extract, we really try not to bring those in as often.

Lea: I did bring in quite a few gimmicky challenge items because the heat challenges are so hot right now.

Marshall: And hot ones is a huge.

Lea: Hot ones is huge.

Lea: And they've done a significant amount of indirect advertising because people see it and they come in.

Lea: And we actually have a tablet in the store where we have the hot ones from Saturday night playing on Sunday so that people can see what happened the night before, what sauces they tried.

Lea: If we have any of those sauces, they're out for sample because that's what people want.

Lea: But we don't try to bring in the ones that don't have much flavor.

Lea: And the extract sauces, like Satan's Blood, are more gimmicky.

Lea: So you may not see the same people coming in every week to pick up that Satan's Blood, but you do see the guy that bought last week bringing his brother or his friends.

Lea: And this week we see a ton of xollege students.

Lea: Over the holidays, especially New Year's, we saw a bunch of people doing hot ones challenges with their friends.

Lea: They want the hottest sauces.

Lea: They don't care about flavor.

Lea: We do.

Lea: So over the holidays, we brought in a lot of the gimmicky stuff, a lot of the extracts.

Lea: But normally what we've got is the stuff that will actually slow burn, the stuff that doesn't hit you right in the face.

Lea: As soon as you taste it, we want you to taste the sauce just like the taste products.

Lea: The taste is important.

Lea: Taste it first and then the heat comes later.

Gerry: The pandemic has been a bit of a blessing to us.

Gerry: At the end of the day, one thing that has done is created a movement of back to the kitchen.

Gerry: There's more and more people that are cooking for themselves now and going back that way.

Gerry: And my vision is that that's going to open up the markets to more and more independent retailers, do things unique like we're doing.

Gerry: So you go to your favorite specialty shop.

Gerry: I think the day of the big bulk stores are behind us.

Gerry: They'll still be out there for the staples, but everybody wants quality.

Gerry: Now with the contamination that's happening out there in mass produced foods, everybody's looking at small batch things.

Gerry: And bottom line is Lea said it earlier, we're in the business of making food taste better, and that's just what we want to do, and that's what we want to educate people on.

Marshall: You're also sharing stories.

Marshall: What I mean is all these two examples.

Marshall: One is when people realize that Marie Sharp, which is one of my favorite sauces, I think one of Sara's favourites…

Sara: I have many favorites, but that's one of them.

Marshall: Oh, Marie Sharp is a real person in Belize, and it started off as something very small and became huge.

Marshall: And then if you look at a local story, Wicked Smart hot sauce, you realize, oh, that's actually if Ifoma Smart from Trinidad and there's his own family history in that sauce right there's these beautiful stories behind these sauces.

Gerry: Sure.

Marshall: Including the salsa here that you bring in Costa Rica.

Marshall: Can you talk about that?

Gerry: It's the single most requested product that we've ever had in the store.

Gerry: It's a curry base.

Gerry: It's the catch up of Costa Rica.

Gerry: And when Canadians go down there on winter vacations, they find it sitting on every table in every restaurant.

Gerry: And they ended up getting addicted to it.

Gerry: And they walk in the store and they see it and they get all excited about it.

Gerry: It's great because it's hard to find in this country.

Lea: And just for reference, that's Lizano in case anybody wants to come in.

Marshall: And also, if people are picturing salsa like they buy at the grocery store, that is not what that looks like.

Gerry: No, it is not.

Lea: Well, when they say salsa, it translates to sauce.

Gerry: That's right.

Lea: Everything is a salsa that we would call a sauce.

Lea: So it's actually a very thin flavoring sauce that you can use for so many different things.

Lea: But it's got such a unique flavor.

Gerry: Yeah.

Gerry: North Americans have bastardized the interpretation of salsa, and they turned it into this chunky thing that you dip a nachos into.

Gerry: But it's far more than that.

Gerry: It's just basically a generic name for sauce.

Marshall: Gerry, you blew my mind with Ring of Fire the first time I saw it.

Marshall: How did you discover Ring of Fire and what do you think it is that sets it apart from so many other sauces?

Gerry: It's like everything in life, Marshall.

Gerry: It's quality.

Gerry: This is a couple, Mike and Diane, that have been making this by hand for over 20 years in San Diego, California.

Gerry: I got turned onto it through a convoluted path, but I tasted it and I thought, my God, that's the best thing I've ever tasted.

Gerry: And every one of their products for me ranks number one.

Gerry: Their steak sauce is probably the best I've ever tasted.

Gerry: They've got a mustard out.

Gerry: That is just unbelievable.

Gerry: They've introduced a new Mezclajete sauce in a squeeze bottle.

Gerry: The way that I reference it is it's a Mexican ketchup.

Gerry: And you would use it the same way as a ketchup with a very distinct Mexican flavor to it.

Gerry: But I can't talk enough about them compared to everything else there where I want to go, if I'm on a desert island, there'll be a bottle.

Gerry: Bring a fire garden fresh with me.

Marshall: And I imagine it must be neat to arrive in a hot sauce for them and realize the best example I can give is if you worked in an organic food store ten years ago, it must have been frustrating as a local business owner to see those products start showing up in big box stores and Costco, and you suddenly are no longer this needed destination.

Marshall: But you can't compete with the prices.

Marshall: The products here at Taste are not going to end up in those big boxes.

Lea: There are some and kudos to the local sauce makers that can get their stuff into Sobeys and Zehrs because that's a hard market to break into.

Lea: And like I said, we're here to support them as well.

Lea: But we have more.

Lea: We have a better selection.

Lea: We offer sampling hot sauce is not cheap.

Lea: Even when you go into the grocery store now, you're still going to find similar prices to what we have, and you don't get to taste it before you buy it.

Lea: You buy it, it's yours.

Lea: You're stuck with it.

Lea: I do get a little bit frustrated when I go into the grocery store, and they've got huge hot sauce sections now.

Lea: But then I realized that's the trend.

Lea: That's where we're going.

Lea: That's why we're here.

Lea: And that's not all we do.

Lea: Hot sauce is honestly what gets people through the door at Taste because it's so popular right now.

Lea: But what they leave with our Taste products, and that's my goal.

Lea: My goal is to get people to actually appreciate the flavors that we're offering.

Lea: And I'll have as much hot sauce as I can.

Lea: And again, I'll compete with the local grocery stores for the local business because those guys need support as well.

Lea: But when they come in, when people come in, they may be here for hot sauce, but they will taste a taste product.

Lea: And 90% of the people that sample a taste product buy a taste product, and that makes me happy.

Lea: So I will jump on that bandwagon and support these local guys as far as I can because they deserve it, too.

Lea: They've worked really hard.

Lea: They all work probably a lot harder than I do to get their product in the hands of the consumers.

Lea: So it's a little bit frustrating knowing that I have competition, but I think that just drives me to be much more aggressive in what I do.

Gerry: No, we don't have competition.

Gerry: What we do, I maintain, is completely unique, and you will not find another store anywhere like this one.

Gerry: Our prices reflected we're certainly not overcharging.

Gerry: Our prices are competitive, but we have to build in the tasting factor, the fact that every one of the products in the store is open and there's a cost factor involved with that.

Gerry: But having that ability and being able to do that, you're going to end up saving money.

Gerry: At the end of the day, how many stale bottles do you have in your pantry of stuff that you've bought because of the label and you just don't use or you buy it for one recipe, and the product is so convoluted that you can only get that one recipe out of it because it doesn't work with anything else.

Gerry: What we've tried to endeavor here with the Taste products is just basic flavors that you can use and use every day in your cooking.

Gerry: And once you discover the benefits of doing that, you'll be hooked and you'll become a regular customer.

Sara: The village of St.

Sara: Jacobs is all about that unique experience.

Sara: We've got a lot of friends at Bonn Park here, Spoil the Dog, Toy Soup, Edward down tat Eco Cafe, Nick Benninger of Fat Sparrow Group and everything that he's up to over on the other side of the street, like Stonecrock and everything there.

Sara: These are not experiences that you're going to get anywhere else in the Waterloo region, and it's special to this area, and it makes it a destination to come to your shop well.

Gerry: Without a doubt, and let's not forget that this is tourist central for the longest time.

Gerry: This used to be the second most frequented tourist attraction in the province, next to Niagara, and the town has gone through some changes over the past ten years, some of them good, some of them not so good, but we've seen a decline in traffic flow.

Gerry: But I've got a real good feeling.

Gerry: I'm starting to feel it.

Gerry: And the people will be coming back without a doubt and I think they will be coming back in droves.

Gerry: So we're really happy to be here.

Gerry: There's very few places that I can think of that have the environment that we have in this little village.

Gerry: And I'm really proud to be here.

Gerry: And I know several of my friends that are vending in town as well just are really enjoying it and they like what they're doing.

Marshall: When you started, you couldn't possibly have seen where we would be at with hot sauce.

Marshall: Now in terms of the way tastes have changed?

Gerry: Oh, without a doubt.

Gerry: Without a doubt.

Gerry: It's the ethnic diversity of our country that makes most of this a very, so to speak, hot commodity.

Gerry: And a lot of those immigrants have brought their traditions with them and a lot of that is food culture.

Gerry: It's become a really popular commodity right now.

Gerry: The last I heard, there were over 3000 licensed hot sauce manufacturers in America alone.

Gerry: And like, we're starting to grow great numbers here in this country and there's just nothing but tremendous growth for the future.

Marshall: When it comes to your own products, I think about they are as much equally enjoyed in our home as they are just the best gift you must have seen.

Marshall: That where people get hooked and then they realize.

Sara: I have to I have to buy this for everyone I know.

Marshall: Yeah, right.

Marshall: The pizza oil.

Marshall: I think about that.

Marshall: Who isn't going to love that pizza oil, right?

Gerry: Yes.

Gerry: We had just last week we had that gentleman come in for all those Peruvian gold.

Gerry: And the reason he took what, eight bottles?

Gerry: He took ten bottles.

Gerry: And the reason for doing that is he had a dinner party on New Year's and everybody was raving about it so much that he went and bought bottles for all the people that have a nice little loop bag.

Sara: Like a takeaway present.

Gerry: That's right.

Lea: Prior to the holidays, I set up a bunch of different gift boxes just for ideas of taste products that would go together.

Lea: We've got oils, we've got just infused oils, we've got flavored oils, we've got vinegars, we've got salad zest, which are concentrated salad dressings that you would add your own medium too.

Lea: So it's vinegar and spices.

Lea: These are our own in house made products.

Lea: People don't know what to do with them.

Lea: So I set up gift packs where you could take, let's say the mango cider vinegar and the lemon oil.

Lea: Mix them together and when you taste that, it tastes like lemon meringue pie.

Lea: Now that is the perfect salad dressing, at Least base to put over citrus salads or a light summer salad.

Lea: People don't think about things like that.

Lea: And when you combined them, we sold so many gift packs because people knew they liked this one product and they don't know what to get mom and dad because they don't like spicy food.

Lea: Well, not everything is spicy.

Lea: Let me show you what we've got.

Lea: The herb oil and the garlic oil is perfect for people that don't like spice because there's no heat there.

Lea: You mix those two together and you've got, honestly, the best chicken base that you can roast a chicken with and it went over really well.

Lea: People just needed a little suggestion Because a lot of times when people come in they are overwhelmed by the amount of product that we have.

Lea: The moment you walk through the door, you can smell it.

Lea: This place smells amazing.

Lea: It looks amazing and people just immediately start thinking with their stomachs and that's where we come in.

Lea: But the gift giving I was surprised over the holidays and I'm still surprised to this day that people come in and buy so much to give as gifts Because they love it so much and I think that's amazing.

Gerry: Well, the unique aspect of it has nothing to do with it, I'm sure.

Gerry: Well, I mentioned to you my wife Lydia is now retired and she personally made over hundreds of thousands of oils.

Gerry: I wasn't quite ready yet to retire and the pandemic came and I said it's my chance to reinvent what I've been doing.

Gerry: I've got some downtime now to do it and the whole key was bringing the manufacturing right here into the building and doing it out of the building and yes, I'm really happy I'm really happy that Lee has come on board now.

Gerry: I feel secure every night knowing that everything's taken care of and in good hands but it's been an adventure but it's been a passion and it's probably been the best time I've ever had in my life is right now.

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