The Bronx is burning…but for a different reason.
That is the unofficial slogan for a new hot sauce being made from thousands of serrano peppers grown in gardens all around the borough. The fiery condiment—called the Bronx Hot Sauce—seeks to connect the artisanal-food fad with economic revitalization of New York City’s poorest borough.
“If it works, we could do some real damage here,” said John Crotty, who owns Bronx apartment buildings and is one of the founders of the hot-sauce company known as Small Axe Peppers.
The project is the first effort by GrowNYC, a nonprofit organization that has created more than 70 community gardens around the city and operates markets such as the Union Square Greenmarket, to sell products made from local gardens. The company also plans to market the sauce online, at greenmarkets and eventually at local food retailers.
While Brooklyn has lately seized a great deal of the city’s culinary momentum, the Bronx also can lay a claim as a local-food hub—from the 113-acre Hunts Point Produce Market to shops selling homemade pasta.
Bottles of The Bronx Hot Sauce for sale at the Union Square Greenmarket. ENLARGE
Bottles of The Bronx Hot Sauce for sale at the Union Square Greenmarket. Andrew Hinderaker for The Wall Street Journal
A resurgence of interest in local food would seem an opportunity for the borough’s large immigrant population to turn family recipes into profitable enterprises offering everything from tomato sauce to tamales. But the cost of starting such businesses often proves prohibitive for those without ready access to capital. Many with poor English skills also get caught up in regulatory hurdles.
As with the restaurant industry, the likelihood of failure in the food production is extremely high.
“If you don’t have an easy way of absorbing the initial costs, then it’s difficult to get your product off the ground,” said Robin Puskas, a product development expert who worked with Small Axe to ramp up its sauce.
The hot sauce, which costs $8 for a 5-ounce bottle, currently is being sold in Times Square at the Taste of Times Square and at greemarkets in Union Square.
Small Axe Peppers, founded by Mr. Crotty along with John Fitzgerald, Todd Snyder and John Warren, is named for a Bob Marley song that Mr. Crotty said evoked the power of the underdog. “If you are the big tree, let me tell you that/We are the small axe, sharp and ready,” go the lyrics.
Small Axe donated 3,500 pepper seedlings to GrowNYC for distribution to Bronx gardens in the spring, and they were repurchased at the end of the season. Not enough were produced for the hot sauce so peppers from a farm on Pine Island in Orange County, N.Y., were added.
They chose hot sauce as opposed to something like tomato sauce because huge quantities of vegetables get boiled down into a small batch of sauce. “We needed the Jesus fruit, where can you take a little of it and make a lot,” Mr. Crotty said.
The first batch cost just under $75,000 to produce. The co-founders expect to make about $50,000 in revenue in the first year. They hope the venture will eventually to be profitable and would put much of the money back into the gardens.