Hayward Hot Sauce
By Sarah Henry
It started as a weekend hobby and turned into a hot commodity. So just over a year ago, after seven years of tinkering with recipes at home, former IT and project management man Scott Zalkind ditched the day job in favor of slinging hot sauce at farmers’ markets and festivals. It’s proven to be a critical success: Zalkind’s Lucky Dog hot sauce, a line of six flavors that run from extra mild to extra hot, has taken top honors at hot sauce competitions around the country ever since. We’re talking 22 awards and counting. Not too shabby, given that there’s a lot of competition out there now. Hot sauce production is, well, a red-hot industry these days.
“My sauces proved really popular with friends over the years, and I just decided one day while on vacation that it was now or never in terms of making the switch to full-time production,” says Zalkind, 43, a Hayward resident who named his sauce after his beloved dog, a lab/border collie mix, and because he’s always liked the expression. “This is exactly what I want to be doing right now.”
Zalkind personally sells his hot sauce at the Hayward Farmers’ Market on Saturdays and has a stall at the Castro Valley Farmers’ Market the same day. East Bay fans of fiery condiments can also find Lucky Dog at Andronico’s in Berkeley, Authentic Bagel Company and Phat Matt’s BBQ in Oakland, Al’s Food Market in Castro Valley, Snappy’s Café in Hayward, and Bob’s Hoagy Steaks in Fremont. Lucky Dog is also available online, via web grocer Good Eggs, and at Berkeley’s HEAT Hot Sauce Shop, where it’s a bestseller. (See our story on HEAT in the Spring 2014 issue.) A barbecue and beer kinda guy who enjoys playing guitar, Zalkind finds making batches of hot sauce a great way to decompress. “It’s my Zen thing. It helps me unwind. I’m the kind of person who multitasks all the time but when I’m making hot sauce I’m just making hot sauce.”
Zalkind grew up eating lots of so-called ethnic eats in the Bay Area—think Thai, Indian, Chinese, and Vietnamese food. He was a fan of sizzling condiments from a very young age. Zalkind speculates that the upswell in interest in spicy sauces may stem from Anglo-Americans finally getting hip to hot sauce, which has always been a favorite flavor ingredient in the food of Latin and Asian cultures. Zalkind set out to create the kind of hot sauce he craves: one full of nuanced flavors, lots of fire-roasted peppers and garlic, and heat that enhances but doesn’t overwhelm what’s on the plate. “I’m not a fermented, very vinegar-forward kind of hot sauce fan,” he says, “I subscribe to the Thai philosophy: It should be the right balance of sweet, sour, salty, and savory.”
Like most chileheads, Zalkind believes almost any food tastes better with a dash or two of the spicy stuff—he adds hot sauce to omelets, burgers, pizza, meat, fish, the works. His product, which is made in a commercial kitchen in Sonoma, uses locally sourced ingredients, including garlic from Gilroy, peppers from Morgan Hill, apples from Sebastopol, and figs from Sonoma. Zalkind’s green label bottle, a mild-to-medium-heat version, features jalapeño, serrano, and cayenne peppers. His red and orange labels add habanero to the mix for additional kick. The extra-mild purple label, a versatile drop that’s easy to douse on many a dish, includes jalapeños, apple sauce, carrots, hickory smoked sea salt, Mission figs, and lime juice. For those who can handle the heat, Zalkind’s pink label is a habanero-serrano-ghost pepper blend with Bartlett pears and dates. The black label features the fiery Trinidad Moruga Scorpion.
This condiment peddler maintains that hot sauce can make even crappy food edible. Case in point: When a buddy reupped in the military recently and deployed to Korea, he wrote to his friend about how bad the cafeteria food was and how much he missed his pal’s hot sauce. So Zalkind started sending him care packages of the piquant sauce. It wasn’t long before he began receiving letters, emails, and photos from soldiers thanking Zalkind for sending something from home. He’s been sending three or four random packages a month via the Any Soldier program ever since. “Regardless of your politics or how you feel about war, these people are doing a tough job in difficult places and they’re often overlooked. If I can deliver something delicious to them that makes a small difference in their daily life, why wouldn’t I?” •
Online orders and store locator: lucky-dog-hot-sauce.myshopify.com