Since 2018, Jay Davies has been crafting extraordinary hot sauces from his kitchen in Silverdale. It was an enterprise that came to life in familiar circumstances for a lot of parents; his youngest was starting school and Jay, a former pro golfer turned stay-at-home Dad, suddenly found himself with a lot more time on his hands.
Having always been an avid gardener, Jay started growing chillies and experimenting with different hot sauce recipes, to rave reviews from friends and family. He began selling them at markets around the country, cultivating something of a cult following as he went.
‘It’s a niche product, but Kiwis are getting really into proper hot sauce,’ he says, a shift he partly attributes to the rise in popularity of American-style BBQ.
Although he’s loved the journey, Jay jokes that having grassroots fans has its drawbacks, especially when they grow attached to his ever-evolving range. ‘I have a perfectionist gene!’ he laughs. ‘We have lots of customers saying, “I loved that sauce, where’s it gone?!” But I’m not afraid to change if I think the sauce could be better. I’m always looking for better quality ingredients and reviewing growing practices. It’s all about trial and error.’
A self-titled ‘Lone Ranger’, Jay managed to stick to home-grown chillies for a good year and a half. As his success grew, however, it became more difficult to grow enough to meet demand.
‘There was not a shred of grass in our whole back yard,’ says Jay. ‘It was all chillies. My whole property, minus the house, was chilli.’
He started engaging local growers instead, a step that allowed him, not only to up production levels, but to start tinkering with new varieties. ‘We’re working on a lot of very niche chillies,’ he says, ‘Red habanero, African birds’ eye, ghost pepper.’
The quality of those chillies, along with his small batch approach, is the simple secret to why his sauces are so good. ‘For me, the uniqueness is in sourcing the best New Zealand products and in that real, unwavering commitment to small batch quality.’
He’s one of just a handful of hot sauce producers in New Zealand still working that way. ‘With the nature of the product, to grow on a major scale you have to move away from that small batch approach really quickly,’ says Jay. ‘I don’t want to do that. I’m never going to compromise the quality. If I do go to the next level – whatever that is – I’ll still be making it. I’ll just have a bigger pot.’