This Ottawa entrepreneur turned her need for heat into a family food business. Influenced by her Nigerian and Jamaican roots, Rochelle turned her dad’s recipe into her signature sauce, African Heat. We chatted with Rochelle to learn what it takes to get a hot sauce business going and what motivated her to turn her passion for food into an exciting biz. Check out the interview below:
What inspired you to begin Little Village Foods?
I wanted to build a business that catered to the needs of people who have an appreciation for artisanal, all-natural, high quality hot sauce. My father made his homemade hot sauce, now called African Heat, for many years prior to owning Little Village Foods (LVF) so I had a chance to see firsthand how our friends and family raved about this spicy condiment. I eventually took that as an opportunity to have the sauce bottled and available for sale.
What role has your family played in the recipes and in the business overall?
It truly is a family business as everyone plays a vital role. For instance, my brother in-law built and manages my website and my sister designed the company logo. Whether it is chopping, cooking, or delivering, we do it together.
What is the biggest challenge?
When I first started, I underestimated the amount of work that would go into building an online presence. I think the challenge stems from my personal desire to limit my time spent on social media, but because it is such an effective communication tool, I persist. That being said, I still believe that nothing beats face to face interaction. Speaking with me, hearing testimonials and seeing the product up close is integral to acquiring and maintaining business.
What are your favourite ways to use African Heat?
While I enjoy it in stews, curries, chicken, rice and Thai recipes, my absolute favourite is African Heat in a sandwich. Basically, I use it to enhance most of what I eat.
We all love to add hot sauce to our marinades and our dips but could you share some unconventional and creative ways to use African Heat?
I really enjoy mixing our hot sauce with other cool condiments. This is especially good for those who like their food a little less spicy because you can control the amount of African Heat you add. Give this recipe a try the next time you make tacos, nachos, or chicken wings:
- 4 tbsp of mayonnaise
- Equal parts sour cream
- 1 freshly squeezed lime
- Dash of salt
- ¼ tsp of garlic powder
- ¼ tsp of paprika for colour (optional)
- 1 tsp of African Heat (add more if you enjoy more heat)
What advice would you give other food entrepreneurs, particularly other Black women entering the food space?
Work a little bit on your business and craft each day. Whether it be trying a new recipe, brainstorming, or networking. In time, you will notice that those steps are the foundation of your vision. I think it is also important to know that you will not have all the answers and that is totally normal. Reach out to your peers, who have been in the field for a while, because they are often happy to help. It takes time to build a business and brand so be patient and do not get in your way of achieving your definition of success. In my personal observation, there are not many black women in Ottawa who are publicly experimenting with food and promoting [black] food culture. If you take a look at the owners of our local shops and vendors at farmers markets, most folks do not look like me or share my cultural heritage. As a result, I am able to explore an untapped market and reinforce just why Little Village Foods is so important.
What’s next? Are you planning to expand product line?
I want to get people excited about cooking meals with their family and friends, excited about cooking with spices and hot peppers, and most importantly, broaden their appreciation for culinary diversity. Therefore, I am happy to announce that Little Village Foods has expanded its product line to include a wide range of flavourful spreads that feature varying degrees of heat. For example, Mango Heat and Pineapple Heat promise cool sweet overtones that pair perfectly with seafood, cheeses and rice dishes, while our Red Pepper Heat delivers a savoury tingle that will leave you wondering how you were ever able to enjoy food without it. This new spectrum of heat aims to satisfy all, from the most timid tongue to the one seeking a serious sizzle. Keep on the lookout for Little Village Foods at tradeshows and local farmers markets in the near future!
How do folks stay in the know?
We encourage all of our Heat Seekers to get in touch with us on social media. Post a photo of your purchase along with a dish you made and don’t forget to include one or all of the following hashtags: “#LittleVillageFoods, #AfricanHeat, #HeatSeeker.” Here is how to get in touch with us: Email: [email protected]
And if you’re in Ottawa, check out their upcoming pop up dinner!