New Mexico-based hot sauce heats up the market

March 19, 2019

Can Tsimayó Hot Sauce become New Mexico’s Sriracha or Tabasco?

Dennis Garcia thinks so.

Garcia, owner of the new Tsimayó Hot Sauce, launched the tangy condiment this month at the National Fiery Foods & Barbecue Show in Albuquerque. He said he sold 300 bottles at this booth.

Blue Sky Distributors, an Albuquerque distributor to some 500 grocers of all sizes in New Mexico, had a team at Fiery Foods.

“It was hard to talk to him [Garcia] because there was a crowd around his booth,” said David Ray, new product development manager at Blue Sky Distributors.

Still, they made a deal for Blue Sky to distribute the first 600 bottles, starting as early as this week. Ray intends to ship the first set to grocery cooperatives and small grocers across the state.

But Ray expects to quickly reach a deal with United Supermarkets, the Albertsons subsidiary in Lubbock, Texas, that operates 25 Albertsons Markets in New Mexico and a Market Street in Santa Fe.

“It could be a matter of weeks” to be in Albertsons, Ray said.

By the end of the year, Ray thinks he could be distributing Tsimayó Hot Sauce to Smith’s Food & Drug, Whole Foods Market, Natural Grocers and many other New Mexico grocers. Garcia also wants to get his product to California, Colorado and Texas before trying to go national.

Tsimayó Hot Sauce is already available at Ortega’s Weaving Shop in Chimayó and Mesa Vista Café in Ojo Caliente.

Tsimayó is apparently the only commercial hot sauce manufacturer in New Mexico, said Dave DeWitt, co-producer of the National Fiery Foods & Barbecue Show and also an expert on all things chile in New Mexico.

“I’ve never heard of a New Mexico hot sauce,” DeWitt said. “It’s a gap in the market. For some reason, we go the green chile route when we spice things up.”

In his blog, DeWitt, author of several chile pepper books, wrote: “It’s much better than traditional Tabasco Sauce, with less vinegar and a fuller flavor. It too comes in a handy squeeze bottle.”

Garcia intends to produce all Tsimayó in Santa Fe, though the first 50,000 bottles are coming from a contract manufacturer in Wisconsin.

Garcia barely has a headquarters set up in Santa Fe. He is acquiring manufacturing equipment and looking for a roughly 15,000-square-foot space in Santa Fe, where he would prefer to produce Tsimayó. If a Santa Fe space doesn’t turn up, he will look in Albuquerque.

Garcia believes the initial 50,000 bottles should sell by July or August, and after that he hopes to do all phases of Tsimayó Hot Sauce production in New Mexico.

Tsimayó is an alternative spelling of Chimayó that has been attributed to Tewa Indians. The Chimayó chile is at the heart of Tsimayó Hot Sauce.

Garcia, who lives in Ojo Caliente and owns a 2-acre chile farm in Chimayó, hopes to produce all the chile for his hot sauce. This first year, he said, he grew about 40 percent of the chile he needed and two nearby Chimayó chile farmers provided the remainder.

Because Chimayó chile is in short supply — Garcia said fewer than 50 farmers produce less than 5 tons of Chimayó chile in a year — Garcia only uses Chimayó chile powder in the Tsimayó Milagro blend, which will only be sold in New Mexico. The original blend that will be sold everywhere else has no Chimayó chile.

The base ingredient of both blends is distilled vinegar, tabasco pepper and red habañero pepper.

“I only get 1,000 pounds of Chimayó powder,” Garcia said. “That produces about 10,000 bottles.”

Garcia said 50 percent of the profits of the Milagro blend will go to El Santuario de Chimayó.

After this year’s production, Garcia foresees producing about a half million bottles a year of the original blend.

Garcia came to Chimayó chile farming and hot sauce manufacturing from an unlikely path. Fifteen years ago, he sold his company, Potomac Management Group, an Arlington, Va., provider of port security for the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

He followed that with some filmmaking with his brother, Leo Garcia. Dennis Garcia was executive producer of a documentary about South Sudan called Ten Minutes is Two Hours and an independent feature film called Excess Flesh.

His mother grew up in New Mexico but left the state. Dennis Garcia had little more than passing visits to New Mexico until buying the Chimayó farm and a 1,000-acre ranch near Chama in 2014. He later sold the Chama property.

Garcia said his mother’s family traces back to the late 1600s in Chimayó. She told family stories during his childhood and had a written genealogy.

Garcia tossed the genealogy in his backpack for a five-week trip to Europe with long-time college friend Elmer Martinez, a Truchas native who is a consultant on Chimayó farming techniques at Tsimayó Hot Sauce. Garcia got to reading the genealogy in Ghent, Belgium.

“Me and my buddy were talking, ‘Have you ever been to New Mexico?’ ” Garcia recalled Martinez asking. “He said, ‘Let’s think about it.’ I took it to the next level, called a real estate agent and bought the farm and ranch, sight unseen.”

Garcia and Martinez originally intended to just produce Chimayó chile powder.

“We started going to the Hatch Chile Festival in 2015,” he said. “I thought I’d do a deal with Hatch. Do a hot sauce with Hatch chile. Elmer said ‘let’s keep it Northern New Mexico.’ Then the wheels started turning.”

Garcia believes the time has come for New Mexico to become identified with hot sauce.

“Everbody carries Louisiana hot sauce, Texas barbecue sauce and California Sriracha,” Garcia said. “Nobody carries New Mexico hot sauce on their tables anywhere.”