I had the opportunity to interview the iconic Marie Sharp, the person whose name I see and speak every single day. Marie Sharp’s was our top-selling brand of 2014, and even people who DON’T eat hot sauce have heard of her sauces. For nerdy little me, this was a brush with a celebrity, even if only through a series of emails. However, I quickly got over being a little star-struck once I saw how humble she was.
“We have hundreds of visitors to my factory,” she told me. “If I am recognized, they all want to take pictures with me or for me sign bottles of hot sauce or sign their Marie Sharp's T-shirt, but I prefer to remain incognito. I am not a big fan of publicity, however I am happy to meet with my fans. I am a normal, hard-working person that continue to partake in the daily running of the factory.”
Perhaps this attitude is the reason why her business remains so successful to this day. All 12 sauces are her own recipes crafted with the goal of producing sauces with heat and flavor—not trying to make the hottest sauce in the world—and she’s good at it. Despite her achievements, she hasn’t let her success go to her head. In fact, the three words I would use to describe Marie Sharp are hard-working, humble, and classy. You can see why when you hear her tell the history of her business:
The History of Marie Sharp's Habanero Pepper Sauce As Told By Marie Sharp
“We own our own farm named Melinda Estate,” Marie explained. “This is where in 1978, I started cultivating the red habanero. The red habanero is a yellow or light orange; by cross pollination with the Jamaican red, I changed the color eventually to habanero red. On this farm, we grow everything I turn into a product. Today because of worldwide acceptance, we now contract out to other small farmers for production of peppers and carrots.”
“I starting creating my sauces, with being different in mind, by using fresh vegetables and tropical fruits. Hence I didn't need to use thickeners or food colors. By creating my own red pepper, I didn't have to use coloring, and by using our own homegrown limes, I cut back on the vinegar content. It was one of my customers who asked me to make him a green pepper sauce with a natural green and not coloring.”
“I started selling my hot sauces in 1981. I bought myself three stoves—the counter-top models—four burners each and three pots one per stove. I would cook three pots of sauce every night, the carrot base formula, which was the one everyone who had tasted preferred. I would have a helper fill bottles in the morning, which allowed me to go to work in the morning. On weekends, I would make refried beans and fried tortillas, pack my car with everything I needed, and went to all the little and large stores [allowing them to taste the product] and asking them to put some on their shelves.”
“I worked as an Executive Secretary from 8 am to 5 pm. I covered the entire Country of Belize in this manner. I got into the U.S. by meeting a Belizean American who came to Belize to visit. He tasted the sauces and fell in love with them. He started to import my sauces at the time under the brand name ‘Melinda's’ into the U.S. in 1989. Presently, Marie Sharp's exports to USA, Japan, India, South Korea, Germany, UK, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica…”
A Strong Woman in a Male-Dominated Industry
I always feel a certain privilege when I get the chance to interview someone who has really made a name for themselves and built their brand from the ground up, such as Joe Turner of Tahiti Joe’s or Steve Seabury of High River Sauces. Marie Sharp stands out not only because she makes a delicious and well-known hot sauce but also because she is a woman in an industry that is primarily led by men. Of the 10 nominees for this year’s Hot Sauce Hall of Fame, Marie is the only woman, so I wondered about her thoughts on that. She was quite proud to be included in the list of nominees.
“I have come from a male-dominated era, and this only goes to prove that women can also reach recognition for their efforts and achievement,” Marie told me. “If I am [inducted] into the Hot Sauce Hall of Fame, I would be very happy! I would feel honored—I am now 75 years old and I would be happy to have accomplished such an achievement while I am still here.”
Since I had the chance, I had to ask her if she had any new sauces coming down the pipeline.
“We are now smoking the habanero peppers,” she responded. “We now have a Smokin Marie and a smoked Habanero pepper sauce, both very nice. I am working on a ginger pepper sauce also.”
I want to thank Marie for taking the time to answer my questions so thoughtfully. Because she generally likes to remain incognito to go about her business, I feel very privileged to have had the chance to talk with her. I know we’re not exactly the New York Times over here, but I love to write, and this blog was truly a special one for me to do, and I appreciate that she was willing to help me out.
I will leave y’all with the following recipe that Marie Sharp gave me herself: It’s called Conch Ceviche. Now can someone please tell me where I can buy some fresh conch in Fort Worth, Texas? :)
Marie Sharp’s Conch Ceviche Recipe
- 3 large conch, well-cleaned and washed with limes
- Marie Sharp's Orange Pulp Habanero Pepper hot sauce
- 1 large onion
- 3oz cilantro leaves and stems
- 2 large tomatoes
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ cup water
- 6 limes
1. Beat the conch into small portions with a meat tenderizer, cut up into small portions, and then chop into very small pieces.
2. Mix all of the above ingredients (including conch) in a container and sprinkle with garlic powder and salt.
3. Squeeze six limes in a container (caye limes). Add water to the lime juice and add to conch mixture.
4. Add 2-1/2 ozs Marie Sharp's Orange Pulp Habanero Pepper sauce and let marinate in the refrigerator 2-3 hours. You will end up with an unforgettable Ceviche. Add more lime if needed.