above: Shot in Iceland, The Collection includes the original 3 Señor Lechuga flavors
Samantha Yanks: Tell us a bit about what inspired you two to launch Señor Lechuga Hot Sauces?
Nico Lechuga: I originally made the sauce for myself. There were tons of hot sauces, and yet I still couldn’t find what I wanted. A lot of hot sauce has a ton of heat but it completely overpowers the flavor, and a lot has incredible flavor but totally lacks heat. Nearly all have artificial ingredients, preservatives, emulsifying agents, added sugar, tons of sodium. I wanted a ton of fire — and a ton of flavor — and all-natural recipes. I wanted a clean hot sauce with premium ingredients you could actually taste with enough heat to break a sweat.
Lauren Cosenza: This isn’t so simple. It was like A Beautiful Mind in our kitchen in Williamsburg. Excel charts. Scales. Funnels. Ingredients. Ratios. Samples. But he did it. Originally it was three flavors. We lived at the base of McCarren Park and we entertained a lot. And we would always have the hot sauce out at our rooftop BBQs. And everyone always said, “If you sold this, I’d buy it.” And finally one day, Nico turned to me on the couch, and I was very pregnant with our first child at the time, and he was like, I’m gonna see what it would take to sell it. And I was like, oh a passion project, sure, great.
SY: There must have been a lot of work on the backend and developing the product I love the branding!
NL: There are things you don’t think about but have to get done on the backend. So I did things like get a food handlers license, food protection certificate, a better process control school degree from an online university, a schedule process for each flavor, all of that. And then one night, Lauren said, so what is the logo going to be, and the labels, the packaging, what about your brand colors and voice, you’re going to need a website and an Instagram. You need to build a brand. Lauren’s background is in beauty and fashion, and I said, that’s why I have you.
LC: I had my own business, and I was about to be a first-time mom so my plate was full but I never imagined the momentum would accelerate so quickly. So I was in. We had products we could really stand behind and branding that told the story, through imagery and words, of why that product was special.
How many varieties are there?
NL: So far, we’ve brought to market 14 hot sauces, three spice blends, one DIY hot sauce kit and one salsa macha. Our hot sauces are a mix between our core collection and limited edition or permanent collaborations with brand partners. We use the world’s most expensive Panamanian geisha coffee in one of our collab sauces and we use black Périgord winter truffles in another. Each flavor is unique. We also collaborate on dishes with restaurants that want to feature our hot sauce on menu items.
NL: The original .001 hot sauce from our core line and our .5326 collab hot sauce with Half Face Blades and Joe Rogan are our two most popular flavors.
Tell us about the Spice Blends as well?
NL: The Spice Blends come in a set of three and can be used as a seasoning or a rub. The habanero and chipotle pack some heat but the adobo is pure flavor. And it’s probably the most popular of the three from the feedback we get.
LC: Nico is like a culinary gangster, and I’m like a college dorm chef. I use the basics, I keep it simple but tasty. And the adobo on something as plain as avocado toast is insane. The adobo spice blends are magic.
SY: You’re recent Westport transplants. What inspired the move?
LC: We had a list of things we were looking for as it became more and more obvious that the family life we wanted would not be in the city. Things like exceptional schools, proximity to the beach, accessibility to the city, a downtown with great restaurants and shops and energy, a place with culture and arts, a sense of community. And over and over, Westport kept popping up. Neither of us had been here before so we got in the car and drove to check it out. One thing we both noticed is that everyone here seems to truly love it here.
What do you love about Westport?
NL: I’m from California and one thing I missed being in the city was being able to wake up and go to the beach or just feel connected to nature. Here I love grabbing coffees and bagels and hitting a beach with our kids early in the morning.
Share with us a bit about the Lords of the Fallen collaboration?
NL: Our most recent collaboration is with the newly released Lords of the Fallen action-RPG video game. The collection has two hot sauces that were inspired by the two parallel and interconnected worlds within the game. From the ingredients we chose to their colors to the branding elements. The timing was really tight on this one so based on when the bottles arrived and our kids drop-offs and pickups that day, Lauren had just one hour to shoot the collaboration. If you look at our Instagram, you can see the whole launch was shot at Compo Beach. And it worked and actually matched the brand book perfectly. The feedback on the new flavors has also been really great. One has Carolina Reapers and the other has Ghost Peppers, so they are hot but what really stands out is each flavor.
Where can we shop your products?
LC: You can find us on our website or online at Amazon, Food52, Nordstrom and more. We’re carried at Four Forks and have many more local partnerships on the horizon. Follow us @senorlechugahotsauce for our latest updates.