It Hurts So Good
Baby D’s Hot Sauces add spice—and good intentions—to community
Dillon Hargrave has recently entered the business of pain, and business is good.
A professional DJ, innovative social worker and competitive cyclist, Hargrave is now trying his hand at making hot sauce with the intention of overloading your oral nociceptors (causing tongue pain). When we talked only a few months ago, he was extremely proud of his product—Baby D’s Bee Sting Hot Sauce—but was reluctant to predict extensive growth in the year of 2017. Flash forward to May, and Hargrave’s brain is now flooded with intensity concerning garden expansion, running low on his signature Yellow Jacket sauce, and Instagram madness.
It all started when his boss at Neighbors Along the Line, Shannon Chambers, gifted Hargrave an abnormally violent hot sauce. Social work can get a little monotonous at times, and what better way to turn things up a notch during lunch hour?
The sauce was a Ghost Pepper–based concoction from Dave’s Insanity Hot Sauces, and caused Hargrave to “overdose.” This is a term the hot sauce community uses to describe a consumer taking in too much, too soon. Hargrave’s overdose motivated him to press through a desensitization process, incrementally adding an extra drop of something dangerous to every dish. He laughingly described this process as “blood purification”: “The more capsaicin you eat, the less of an effect it has. I theorize that the negative effects most commonly associated with an overdose are a gauge of the level of impurities in the blood.”
Hargrave said he had little scientific evidence to support this theory, but do little digging turns up a wide array of promising research on capsaicin (the heat-producing compound in peppers) in the health sciences. Capsaicin looks potentially beneficial in reducing arthritic symptoms and slowing down cancer proliferation (especially prostate). It is often compared to mindfulness training or meditation, given the carefree euphoria induced by enduring a major mouth fire.
After getting his feet wet with Insanity Sauce, Hargrave added Tulsa native Denver Nicks’ bestselling book Hot Sauce Nation to his reading list. During a local book signing at LaSalle’s New Orleans Deli, Hargrave got to expose Nicks to his sauce and talk shop amongst the cult, which added more fuel to the fire. Hargrave traveled a bit, indulging in increasingly hot peppers and sauces, and his passion burned on.
When he returned, he was gifted a few “nuclear” and “super hot” pepper varietals from a local friend and farmer. Hargrave’s wife, Ashley, a gifted health-food chef, joined him in the kitchen trialing some micro batches that they would share with friends and family. The first sauces were a hit, consisting of raw/fermented pepper mash, garlic, onions, salt and apple cider vinegar, with no additives, dyes or junk of any sort. A small following began to form and the little bottles began to show up in media posts, especially on Instagram. It is difficult not to post a tiny bottle of hot sauce with a pipet (for micro dosing) and a logo composed of a cartoon bee with Hargrave’s deranged smile on the head.
Over the next five months, the Hargraves continued their at home refinement of micro batches based on feedback from their growing body of supporters. A hot sauce company started to look more tangible, but Hargrave had no idea where to start. Lucky for them, they were accepted into Launch Program 1.0 through Kitchen 66, a wonderful four-month crash course that offers participants access to their test kitchen, one-on-one interactions with experts and fellow food entrepreneurs, features in events, media plugs and help with permits, licensing and setting up a business structure.
Hargrave praises Launch 1.0 at great length, having been quite unsure if they could have managed the weight of a startup on top of their alreadyhectic workloads. Kitchen 66 quickly walked them through all paperwork and licensing for the business LLC on day one. After legitimizing the business, they were unleashed into the kitchen the following day with no worries, leaving them with complete focus on product and branding. Hargrave quickly had three signature sauces tested and bottled: Original, Yellow Jacket and Jalahellno. Since those first three sauces hit limited shelves, demand has gone up and the Hargraves have made their way into some favorite local restaurants. Rob Stewart of Chimera Café has known the Hargraves for some time, and naturally they were the first location outside of Kitchen 66 to carry the full line. Chimera’s famous breakfast tacos give way for Baby D’s sauces to really shine. The crawfish po’ boy at LaSalle’s, the Jerk Chicken Macaroni boat at Mr. Nice Guys, and R Bar’s Chicken & Waffles can now all be found “dabbed” in Baby D’s as well. Other retailers include Barn 66 in Catoosa, Mr. Nice Guys on the Guthrie Green, Bodean’s Seafood Market on 51st and babydsbeesting.com.
In addition to the three signature hot sauces, the Hargraves have finalized two specialty concoctions: Okie Sunset and Sweet Stang honey. Sunset, the first specialty sauce, is a blend of Original and Yellow Jacket, meshing perfectly as a mild introduction to the Original’s extreme heat. The Sweet Stang is by far the prettiest sauce yet, consisting of a habanero/jalapeño blend marinated in local Oklahoma honey and finished off with a touch of Carolina Reaper powder to add an extra kick, as if it was needed. The Sweet Stang arguably belongs on any breakfast dish and will be available for purchase by the time you read these words.
The Hargraves are very excited about their rapid expansion, and are working on overdrive to keep all products on the shelf. The plan, as of now, is to simply keep up with demand, and get product into stores across Oklahoma. After all hurdles are learned from and business has been streamlined, Hargrave plans to implement a gateway program from his social work at Neighbors Along the Line to his hot sauce company. As literacy director at Neighbors, Hargrave oversees all education programs, most of which pertain to high school equivalency testing and job search assistance. Here is his plan: “I’ll have someone come into my office who needs a GED or high school diploma, they enroll in my GED class, prepare for the test, pass the test, get their diploma, and I would have a pipeline for that person to be able to start work immediately for the company.”
With no intention of passing the flame as director, he will now have a growing company to potentially absorb graduates from his programs. On top of sauce preparation and brandrelated work, there will potentially be local farm work offered to the GED graduates. Family friend Kenneth Daubney and his son Abel have already cultivated their first test garden for the Hargraves. Compost piles have settled and mega-hot peppers have been planted, with the intention of producing all peppers necessary for production in the company. This will potentially employ many more Neighbors graduates, considering their plans are to have multiple gardens and processing structures in the Tulsa/Metro area.
This is a tale of synergy, the type of integration that this community needs more of. A great product comprised of simple ingredients, grown here, curated here and distributed here. Given Hargrave’s diverse interests and job history, it makes sense that he would be reaching further than simply starting a hot sauce company. The Hargraves have all their bases covered: addictive flavor, community respect and support, interactive online presence, quirky branding, transparent intentions that support the greater good. What more could you ask for?