Food Set

Aztexan Pepper Co.

Petty thieves drove Mark Witt of Aztexan into the hot sauce business. The year was 1994, and Witt and a friend were operating a Cajun catering truck whose supply of homemade hot sauce kept disappearing. "People kept stealing our sauces, so I figured we were onto something good," laughs Witt, who now commercially bottles his Aztexan Habanero Supreme here in Austin. "I started making hot sauce after my sister sent me a book on hot peppers. I really got into the habanero, and that was about the same time that interest in the pepper peaked," he continued. "I started tinkering around with a few recipes and growing the peppers, too, and everything sort of took off from there."

Asked about his sauce's catchy name, Witt explains that it honors both the Aztec Indians, godfathers of the hot pepper, and, of course, the Lone Star State. Witt's incendiary Aztexan Habanero Supreme has twice captured the People's Choice Award in the commercial division, and sells primarily in boutique salsa specialty shops -- places like Tears of Joy and the Lone Star Brewing Company's shop in San Antonio. "The Hot Sauce Festival has been really good to us," notes Witt, who says that he's seen his regional sales boosted by it. While Whole Foods Market is currently the company's sole supermarket outlet, orders for Aztexan have come from as far away as Zurich, where lovers of hot sauce can apparently find their fix at a place called The Big Chile. "You know," remarks Witt, "when you've got your phone number listed on the bottle, you never know who's going to call you ... and from where!" Asked about plans to expand his line (Aztexan Habanero Supreme is Witt's only product), he says that while he's thought about it, he has no immediate plans for going further. "Aztexan is a great side operation for me," he said, explaining that a full-time job outside the realm of salsa keeps him busy. "For now," says Witt, "Habanero Supreme is my one and only."

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