Ashley Foods, known for their Mad Dog hot sauces, started in the early 1990s when David was unable to find an all-natural BBQ sauce that tasted good. He released his Ultra Hot BBQ Sauce early on in 1992 and sales took off, indicating that spicy foods were gaining in popularity. This year is their 25th anniversary in business. To celebrate, they've released a special edition of their 357 Mad Dog Hot Sauce, infusing it with their popular No. 9 Plutonium extract, which clocks in at 9 million SHU! I recently had the chance to interview David Ashley himself.
Mary: How have your sauces or business changed over the past 25 years?
David: After years of selling the my BBQ sauces, I could no longer sell them and make a profit—the weight of the cases and the cost of real all natural ingredients—I had to discontinue them. Our company name became known for “extreme heat” products. This change was driven by consumers’ thirst for hotter and hotter products. We now focus on the newest chilies and have started growing our own. Now in the third year, we grew 7,000 plus lbs of extreme chilies that we will be adding into our own products and selling pepper mash and frozen chilies to other manufacturers.
Mary: How do you come up with new sauces, and which one is your personal favorite?
David: We wanted something sweet, sour and savory that was a hot version of Sriracha sauce, and so last year we introduced Mad Dog 357 Reaper Sriracha sauce that my son and I created in our kitchen. (I had to install a high-end hood to work in my kitchen so the smell would be gone by the time my wife got home from work—it gets pretty intense when cooking up a new batch.) I think we did an excellent job, and without the use of any preservatives: pretty hot but very user-friendly.
Mary: Which of your sauces do you recommend for someone just getting into hot sauces and why?
David: Our first hot sauce, Liquid Fire, is still one of my favorite sauces. It has molasses and a southwest taste to it. You can also add Liquid Fire to whipped cream cheese and make a great dip. Green Amigo (Jalapeno) or Mad Cat (Habanero) are a great place to start: Chop up fresh tomatoes and add a bottle of either, let sit for a couple hours in the fridge, and you have some great salsa.
Mary: Which of your sauces do you recommend for a seasoned chili head who is trying your brand for the first time and why?
David: Mad Dog 357 Reaper Sriracha Sauce, sweet, savory and salty. Really good heat but totally edible. Mad Dog 357 Scorpion, made with locally grown chilies very hot with nice after taste. Mad Dog 357 Gold Edition made with the three hottest chilies in the world, with fresh onions, garlic and lime juice. This sauce should not be eaten by anyone not ready for a ride on the endorphin express; first time I tried it I broke out into a cold sweat for 20 minutes. Very, very hot with no trace of any extract flavors. Something I have wanted to sell for years. Took three years of growing chilies to get enough to start making this sauce.
Mary: Do you have any new sauce flavors coming out soon?
David: Yes, we just released the 25th Anniversary Gold edition to celebrate our 25th year in business. We used all chilies grown in the USA, Reaper, Ghost and Scorpion peppers with the addition of Mad Dog 357 Plutonium No 9 to boost the heat in addition to fresh onions, garlic and lime juice. I was able to make an extreme hot sauce with no extract taste with our locally grown peppers. Totally smells and taste like a chili. We are also working on a line of pepper mashes for chefs and cooks to use to enhance heat and flavors of three or four types of chilies.
Mary: Can you share a cooking recipe that uses one of your sauces as an ingredient?
Mary: If you could go back in time 25 years and give one piece of advice to yourself back when you were growing up, what would it be??
David: Make sure to pay yourself: Too many small companies do not include their time, and when they grow they do not have the margin to sell to distributors. Listen to your customers: Just because you think it's great does not mean it will sell. Have fun, otherwise why work all the extra hours and not enjoy the job?
Mary: Anything else you want people to know about?
David: I started eating hot foods in 1955 when I lived in Chicago over a Mexican family and learned to love spicy foods. I am truly amazed at how beneficial eating spicy foods are for you and how resilient chili pepper plants are. We had 5,000 plants outside. They survived a hailstorm that destroyed 20,000 lbs of produce in the same field, and we only lost about 150 lbs of peppers. I’ve been able to make a good living for most of the past 25 years in part due to me liking spicy foods and loving to cook.