REEDLEY – A locally-based hot sauce company has taken home numerous accolades after participating in this year’s Scovie awards — a national competition that uses a decades-old pepper spice rating system to dish out awards to the freshest and spiciest pepper-based condiments.
Volcano Johnny’s has been operating for nearly four years from a commercial kitchen in Reedley, which has allowed it to carefully curate and source its sauces and spices from farms around the county. The business’s owners feel this has helped to ensure that their products are the best they can be.
Johnathan Evans, the brand’s head chef and founder, grew a passion for peppers after subscribing to a chili pepper magazine with the goal of expanding his horizons, something he tried to do often during his 45 years of professional cooking.
“A friend of mine was retiring from orchard management and wanted to do something to stay busy, so I suggested making hot sauce because it’s an up and coming thing — this was about four or five years ago,” Evans said. “Aftering making a prototype sauce, I realized that we were on to something (so) I took the idea and went from there.”
While Volcano Johnny’s products can be found online or purchased at their kitchen, Evans says they’ve had the most success by selling at a local market and participating in the Scovies competition, which they’ve done for the past three years.
“We’re at the Vineyard Farmers Market at Shaw and Blackstone every Saturday — rain or shine — which is where most of our business comes from,” he said. “The awards have (also) helped to give us exposure and pique interest and people’s curiosity.”
During their first year participating in the Scovies, Johnny’s won third place in the mild to medium sauce category with their Gringo Lingo smoke jalapeno sauce, going on to win four Scovies the next year with two of them being first placers. This year, Johnny’s won first place in both the Condiments-Hot & Spicy Dry Rub/Seasoning category and the Prepared Sauce-Stir Fry category, as well four other second and third place Scovies, totaling six awards for the local sauce maker.
“The Scovies are like the Oscars and the Emmys, as it came from another word (which) was the Scoville scale; created, I believe, in World War One or World War Two to evaluate the potency of peppers as a chemical weapon. It measures their heat level,” Evans explained, going on to emphasize the “worldwide interest” as seen by the presence of German and Dutch entries.
“The popularity of the sauces, not just ours, is growing fast,” Evans said. “There are a lot of sauces on the market, but the hot and spicy condiment movement has been going on since the indigenous population discovered peppers in the Amazon river basin and spread them throughout the Americans, which were then spread by the Portuguese all over the world, so it has a history of expansion.”
Despite its international reach, Evans pointed out that it doesn’t take much to break into the pepper business. While Johnny’s may harvest their carefully nurtured and handpicked peppers from dozens of acres, Evans feels that all it takes is a bit of land and some passion.
“One of the purposes and one of the results of this business is to show that you don’t need 500 acres of land to grow peppers to make sauce,” Evans said. “Somebody that only has 10 acres can produce peppers and sell to somebody like us, or (make sauces) themselves; I mean, this isn’t rocket science – granted, we want you to think that it is.”
Volcano Johnny’s doesn’t only deal in spicy sauces, they also make rubs and other various condiments that can appeal to those with a sweet tooth, such as their simple, but tasty homemade caramel sauce, their tart lemon curd, or their Sanger River Bottom sourced olive oil.
“Pretty much 99% of our products are spice or chili oriented,” Evans said. “We (do however) sell some extra virgin olive oil that we flavor with onions, garlic, dried mushrooms and some chili peppers, for a finishing oil like the kinds you see people drizzling over their pizzas or slices of roast beef.”
Those who love sauces and condiments — be it something sweet and tangy, or something that can burn your taste buds — can purchased Volcano Johnny’s products by visiting their website or Instagram, as well as stopping by their commercial kitchen, located at 1339 I Street Reedley, CA 93654.
“It’s definitely a serious, serious endeavor, entering the Scovies,” Evans said of the Scovie awards. “You’re playing with the big dogs – so we’re doing well, in that respect.”