Bring The Heat: Hot Sauce Puts Family On The Map

By Melody Parker Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Taufeek Shah and his mother Carmelita launched "Lola's Fine Hot Sauce" just two years ago. Started as a small side venture, the tasty topping is now being sold in more than 35 states and Canada.

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa

Taufeek Shah can be forgiven for being a little late to the party.

His mom, Carmelita, whipped up some mean -- as in tasty -- hot sauce using hot peppers and garlic from a friend's farm several years ago.

While Taufeek loved her spicy dishes growing up, he didn't know she had a family recipe for hot sauce, and he'd never tasted it before. Then he brought a batch to the company potluck, and his co-workers at Principal Financial Group in Des Moines couldn't stop raving about it.

"They said it was the most amazing hot sauce, the best they'd ever had and wanted to know where I bought it. So I sampled it, and it was really, really good," the Waterloo native recalls. "Everyone said I should be out selling the stuff."

Now he is.

Taufeek and his mom launched Lola's Fine Hot Sauce just two years ago.

"We started it as a side venture. What did we have to lose? Now I'm obsessed with hot sauce," Taufeek says, laughing.

Still working full time at their "real" jobs, mother and son rented a commercial kitchen and worked nights and weekends making the sauce. Initially they sold bottles at Des Moines-area farmers' markets while developing a plan for mass production.

Two years later, Lola's Fine Hot Sauce is being sold in more than 35 states and Canada. Four all-natural varieties of the hot sauce are available at supermarkets, including Hy-Vee, Fareway, Natural Grocers, Whole Foods, Price Chopper and Martin Brothers, and soon will be on the shelves of nearly 400 Kroger grocery stores nationwide.

If the hot sauce catches fire, it could be sold in 2,900 Kroger-affiliated stores across 47 states. The condiment also is available at many restaurants, including Hy-Vee Market Grilles.

Plans are being made to open a restaurant, Lola's Kitchen in Ankeny, in April 2018. Taufeek expects to serve "fast-casual" dishes that are all-natural, fresh fusion of Asian and American flavors. His chef-sister Hannah is creating the menu using family recipes. A food entrepreneur herself, Hannah makes a mango salsa that Lola's will market to grocery stores.

Taufeek confesses he has a great deal of affection of Waterloo, and eventually hopes to open a second restaurant in downtown Waterloo.

He attended kindergarten and preschool at St. Edward School and later went to Kingsley Elementary School.

Carmelita, born in the Philippines, and her husband, Syed Shah, from Pakistan, were practicing physicians at Covenant Medical Center before moving to Winthrop in 1982. Carmelita practiced at Winthrop Medical Clinic for more than 35 years, while Syed commuted back and forth to Waterloo.

In Filipino culture, "Lola" means grandmother, and the name seemed perfect for the product.

"My mom is awesome, and she's Lola. It's a 30-year-old family recipe. The original recipe has just five ingredients, no preservatives or additives, and we are protecting the integrity of the recipe by keeping it safe and secure," Taufeek explains.

Bringing the sauce to market has been a careful, concerted effort to produce and market the highest quality hot sauces.

The original sauce is made from jalapeno and habanero peppers, lime juice, garlic, vinegar and salt. Flavor profiles for three other sauces are built around specific peppers -- the ghost pepper, Trinidad scorpion and Carolina reaper. Each is carefully blended to keep lips from melting and tongues scorching from too much heat.

"No one's going to cry eating it," Taufeek says. "It's great flavor that isn't meant to overpower the flavor of the food. Personally, I've taste the peppers so I would know about how we could create sauces with different flavor profiles.

They're all hot -- I was drinking water and milk for an hour after eating a ghost pepper, but it has a smoky, rich flavor. The scorpion did make me cry -- a nice sting up front and good with a garlicky lime flavor. The Carolina Reaper has a slow burn at the end."

Sauces are being produced at the Valentine Food Company in Indianola, as well as an out-of-state facility. "We go through at least 800 to 2,000 cases of peppers -- red jalapenos, habeneros and the rest, every month, and it's made from American produce in America," Taufeek adds.

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