If you grow chillies you realize that the sunnier the season or the sunnier the place where you plant them, the hotter the chilli. It’s converting sunlight in to heat – like a little packet of sun.
John “The Chilli Dude” Boland moved from California to Australia many moons ago and, together with his wife Lynne, helped pioneer a movement in Australia for chilli sauce and Mexican food. He generously invited us to come to his OzyMex shop to sample his line of epic sauces (our favorites were Fiery Coconut and Smokin’ Mango) on fresh home-made tortilla chips, tacos, quesadillas and a big heapin’ burrito. These classic culinary “hole-in-the-wall” delights reminded me of the traditional Mexican food from my hometown of Los Angeles, with a twist of that California and Australian love for fresh, healthy ingredients.
His infectious energy and positive vibes spill over into everything he does–the sauces and food are scrumptious to say the least and the fact that he loves what he does after so many years makes us love his products that much more.
He range of sauces range from mild and sweet to tangy and burnin’ hot. He’s a strong believer in being able to taste the ingredients of the sauce and not just a feeling of “HOT HOT HOT!”
We loved hearing his story and we think you will too.
Do you have any advice for anybody wanting to get into the sauce business?
Don’t give up your day job. No, but seriously, there’s been an awful
lot of things done in the last ten years so you have to try! There’s a
great show in Albuquerque, New Mexico called The Fiery Foods Show and it’s a great place to meet people in the industry. Everyone is there. We’ve been a whole bunch of times.
It’s a good starting point. You could meet with a fellow called Dave
DeWitt, he’s the Pope of Peppers and runs the show. You just talk to
people. It depends whether you want it to be a niche product or a main
stream product. So long as you have a plan for your sauce.
Did you have a plan for your sauce?
We didn’t really know what we were doing, we just started making
sauce. Then all of a sudden we get a call from this supermarket, so we
were faced with the prospect of being in the shops. We had to make a
sauce that was fairly competitive price-wise, ours is premium but
we’re still in the mass market, not the niche market. I think in
Australia it’s harder to be in the niche market because there are not as
many delis – there just isn’t as much of anything. There’s fewer
people and the distances between them are greater.
What brought you from California to Byron Bay?
My Mother was Australian, I came down here to meet my Grandmother and
just loved it! All of my cousins suggested that I go to Byron Bay,
saying that it was the top spot. Twenty-five years ago there was a real estate
agent right across the street, I walked in there and she spent the
whole day looking around at places and ended up buying a little plot
in the hills. I grew up in California in the 50′s and 60′s and in many
ways saw the best times there. Byron Bay felt like that to me. It’s
getting busier all the time, but not too busy. The beach lifestyle was
too attractive, plus our kids were young enough to bring over and had
no choice! [Laughs]
How did it develop in to the business it is today?
We saw an opportunity at a local food market to open a Mexican food
stall. That’s how we got started.
Are there other Mexican restaurants in Byron Bay?
Byron Bay had the first Mexican restaurant in Australia, ‘Mexican
Mick’s’ it was called. It was started by an Englishman. So for a long
time that was here and then he moved away.
We’re hoping that a lot more
people get to try our chilli sauce.
Where do you make the sauces?
We have a contract bottler which is up near the Gold Coast, about an
hours drive away. We looked at having our own factory here but it was
impossible; Not only too expensive, but the council limitations
brought all sorts of issues to have a building like that here. You’ll
find that so many sauces have contract packers.
How much does the factory make over there, is there a certain number
of bottles per day?
They are made to order. We sell about 50 tons a year. Last time I looked
that’s what it was anyway. Still small but not real small. We get
about 2 tons made at a time.
Did you expect Byron Bay Chilli Company to get as big as it has done?
No, I call it an accidental business. We’re hoping that a lot more
people get to try our chilli sauce.
Us too, they’re delicious!
A few of them are so different that I reckon they should be in every
Whole Foods supermarket. There’s a place in Texas that would love to
have our sauces but we don’t have an importer.
For me there’s a few rules of food. Number one is that the first
bite is taken with your eyes.
What’s in store for the next few years for Byron Bay Chilli Company?
We’re working with people to start a series of these Ozy-Mex stores. The good
thing about this kind of thing [the hole in the wall shop] is that
it’s affordable. People can pop in and buy something tasty to eat.
What we like about this arrangement is that people get to see their
food made so you get to know exactly what’s going in to it. I was
inspired by one of my favorite places, I grew up very close to Tijuana on the Mexican border. We used to travel around, mainly
for the cheap beer. There was a little hole in the wall place and in
order to get in you had to lift the bench up and squeeze in, it was
big enough for one person. The owner would make tacos and things while
you waited on the side walk. I was inspired by that idea – literally a
hole in the wall. It wasn’t so much about going to sit down and
spending $50 to eat, it was just something for the people.
With a hole in the wall style place you’re still close to your vision
and closer to your customers. When restaurants get too big it becomes
very impersonal. Maybe they lose sight of the vision a little bit…
Well, for me there’s a few rules of food. Number one is that the first bite is taken with your eyes. There’s also a feeling that a person
gives off, you know, the very best food is always served by mom,
there’s love there. In some small way that’s what we try to convey
here, even when we’re busy we still try to make people feel like
they’re not a hassle to us – we’re here to feed them. Then, of course
once it’s in your mouth it’s got to be good too! It should be
reasonably healthy, and the ingredients should be ethical.
Are chillies good for your health?
Absolutely! I certainly reckon they are and there’s a lot of
literature about it. They’re a digestive aid, a circulatory aid, they
make your food taste good, and they make you happy. There’s a lot of
vitamins in chillies. Chilli is an interesting fruit. Most people
don’t realize this but it came to Asia after the explorers went to the
Americas. There were no chillies in Asia prior to that time, so in the
past 500 years these cultures have totally absorbed the chilli. To me
it’s packed with sunlight. If you grow chillies you realize that the
sunnier the season or the sunnier the place where you plant them, the
hotter the chilli. It’s converting sunlight in to heat – like a little
packet of sun.
You make your own corn chips too?
Yes. We make 10 products in total. We’re looking at a few other
things, for example combining some of our sauces with other things to
create new flavors. There’s a bunch of things we hope to do in the
future. I think we’ve captured a good range of chilli sauces and added
our own signature to them.
We love your bottle labels. What inspired them?
It’s a little bit of paradise. It’s fun and clean.
Which sauce is your favorite?
I probably reach for the hottest one these days. I really like it on
so many things, like poached eggs. I don’t have a favorite child, I
like them all. Sweet chilli, I reach for that a lot. It just depends
what I’m eating.
Do you have a sauce with every meal?
I’ve always got a basket with one of each sauce in it. We just leave it out.
Where can people living outside of Australia buy your sauces?
Come to Byron Bay! We do sell online but postage is very expensive.
Huge thanks to John for this interview and generosity. For more information and recipes to use his delicious sauces, check out:
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