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Small Business

Hey There, Hot Stuff

When Chef Geoff Rhyne first served his signature hot sauce at The Ordinary in Charleston, SC, he wasn’t expecting people to steal it right off their plates. He knew the hot sauce was different than most. He cold-pressed the peppers, fermented them, and aged the sauce in bourbon barrels to give it a depth of flavor that would elevate the taste of his oysters. The sauce Geoff Rhyne created doesn’t just cover food’s taste up with heat. Chef Rhyne’s sauce enhances with layers of flavor that highlight the intrinsic taste of each food. Whether you put Red Clay on braised chicken, raw oysters, or roasted cauliflower, your tastebuds will thank you. This kind of sauce wasn’t available to customers at the time, so foodies had to resort to culinary burglary to take his hot sauce home. Well, Chef Rhyne decided to change that when he started Red Clay Hot Sauce and began making world-class hot sauce you didn’t have to steal to enjoy at home.

Chef Rhyne spent his childhood summers in Georgia surrounded by the area’s red clay and his Granddaddy Jack’s reverence for the land. It was there that “He taught Geoff how to choose quality ingredients and preserve important southern cooking traditions,” according to Molly Fienning, Red Clay Co-Founder and CEO. While Geoff worked tirelessly to handcraft his signature hot sauce, Molly expanded Red Clay’s market across the country. Red Clay experienced explosive growth over the past two years going from $100,000 to $300,000 to $900,000 in gross revenue and launching nationwide on Amazon, Fienning shared with Accountfully. Bottles of Red Clay Hot Sauce stand out on the shelves of Wholefoods, Publix, and Fresh Market, and they sell their line of hot sauces and hot honey directly to consumers through their artful website. But how do you scale a handcrafted hot sauce into a national operation?

Expanding production required serious creative thinking for the team at Red Clay. Since the hot sauce is cold-pressed, most condiment manufacturers weren’t willing to help them scale their operation. Average American hot sauces are boiled and pasteurized which removes some of the pepper’s flavor and personality. Red Clay wasn’t willing to sacrifice the quality of the product just to scale up the operation. After hearing ‘no’ from so many manufacturers, Molly still had two burning questions: who cold-presses? Who ferments?  Juice companies. This idea ignited a hot sauce revolution, and Molly forged a relationship with a large-scale kombucha manufacturer. “We’re probably the only hot sauce in the country made in a kombucha factory,” Fienning told Accountfully.  With their new manufacturing partner, Red Clay began producing the handcrafted quality their customers expect on a larger scale.  Even at this larger production level, they take the time to make their product right. The sauce ages in bourbon barrels for months to achieve the depth of flavor Rhyne first produced and the product is still a living, fermented, and immunity-boosting probiotic.

Meanwhile, Chef Rhyne is still concocting hot new sauces and innovating the condiment industry with his culinary masterpieces including the only Hot Honey on the market. Red Clay shared, “we utilize only 100% Georgian wildflower honey, sustainably-sourced from a 100-year-old honey factory in rural Georgia in our Red Clay Hot Honeys.” Since the beginning, they’ve made their products with an eye on protecting the land, that’s why they source all their peppers from sustainably-minded farmers near their manufacturing facility on the east coast. It’s also why they use highly recyclable glass and plastic in their packaging and the reason they donate byproducts to a local pig farm for upcycling. In fact, their line of Hot Honeys was created because Chef Rhyne noticed leftover pepper mash at the end of the hot sauce process, and he decided to make something new with a material that would normally go to waste. His invention disrupted the condiment industry by becoming the first spicy, sweet hot honey on the market. Molly shared that currently, Chef Rhyne is working on a new product using the dried mash from the Original and the Carolina hot sauces. While they continue to innovate and expand the condiment industry, the team has never lost sight of their ethos. Quality and sustainability are still at the core of the brand, and now they can spread their condiments, quality, and story across the country.

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