Austin Slow Burn Gourmet Fiery Foods

Jill and Kevin Lewis of Austin Slow Burn
Jill and Kevin Lewis of Austin Slow Burn (Photo by John Anderson)

In 1994, local condiment company Austin Slow Burn was born out of a bumper crop of habanero peppers and the creativity of food service professionals Jill and Kevin Lewis. In the early years of the business, Jill spent nights cooking, packaging, and labeling their products in rented restaurant kitchens (Pica Cafe, then the Chuy's at Research and Duval Road) and took care of sales, marketing, and distribution during the day. While Jill taught herself every aspect of the condiment business on the job, Kevin toiled as director of kitchen operations for the homegrown Mexican restaurant chain Chuy's. The Chuy's connection would further the progress of their endeavor in a variety of ways, in addition to providing kitchen space. "At one point, Chuy's considered putting out a line of their own salsas and sent Kevin to learn about canning at the Better Process Control School at A&M. So, of course, I tagged along," Jill explains. Jill also made sales calls at stores in Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio while Kevin checked in at the kitchens at Chuy's locations in those cities – no such thing as a wasted hotel room.

When Austin Slow Burn's production finally outgrew the Chuy's kitchen, Jill and Kevin were both working in the family business. They rented space in an East Austin warehouse kitchen that was home to 2 Dine 4 Fine Catering, joining other artisan food producers Out to Lunch and the Sticky Toffee Pudding Co. there. The company experienced a huge growth spurt not long after the move, due to the annual Central Market Hatch Chile Festival. "One of the buyers at Central Market asked me if I could make a green chile jam for them to sell during the festival. On a whim, I tinkered around with something and took it back to him without a label or a UPC code, nothing. They ordered 75 cases that had to be delivered in three weeks!" Jill recalls. They produced the new jam and recruited friends of their teenage son to help label the jars and pack the boxes. "The kids still refer to it as the Great Labeling," Jill says with a laugh. Hatch chilies are also a key ingredient in another of the company's bestselling products, three flavors of microwaveable green chile con queso. The delectable queso debuted not long after the fateful jam and has been flying off store shelves ever since.

After a few years at 2 Dine 4 Fine Catering, success necessitated another move. This time, Kevin designed their space in another warehouse kitchen operated by Sweetish Hill Bakery owner Jim Murphy in a business park off Burleson Road. They moved into the new space in January 2009. The new kitchen is equipped with stainless steel sinks and counters, a steam kettle, a tilting skillet, a convection oven, a big food chopper, and a walk-in cooler/freezer, plus storage space for jars, boxes, and labels. The business has already grown to fill the new space. "Whole Foods approached me about developing a spicy jam product for them, and they are providing some of the raw product during the research and development phase," reports Jill. Their current product line includes two salsas, six jams, a jerk marinade, a pasta sauce, and three quesos. Jill also finds the time to do some co-packing for other companies, though she's quick to say: "We get calls pretty regularly from folks looking for a co-packer, but I tell them they need to have their product ready to go. I don't have time to develop recipes for other people." These days, she's working with a company called Chile Beach Jams, as well as packing spicy jellies for perennial Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival winner Ana's Salsa.

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