They say that from small seeds grow big trees – and that has certainly proved to be the case for artisan chilli-sauce producer, Stephen Dixon. These days, his award-winning range of products are, if you’ll excuse the pun, in hot demand – with their mouth-watering concoctions selling out as fast as they can produce them. However, it all started with a simple chilli plant on a windowsill.
“I’ve always loved cooking, so when I got my first chilli plant, it was only natural to incorporate the chillies into my recipes,” says Stephen. “I then became interested in growing different varieties of chillies, such as Scotch Bonnet, Naga and Habanero, and started dabbling with different flavours, heat levels and tastes to create different sauces. Initially, it was just for friends and neighbours, but they kept coming back for more, and it all just went from there.”
Today, this family-run business produces some 60 different chilli-related products – all grown, produced and packaged at their Surrey smallholding in Woking – ranging from their legendary range of condiments, such as their award-winning Night Tonic Garlic Hot Sauce, to their chilli ginger biscuits and chilli jam tarts and even chocolate chilli Christmas trees. A regular fixture at farmers’ markets, food festivals and such prestigious events as the Guildford Cheese and Chilli Festival and The Great Dorset Chilli Festival, their products all have a unique flavour combination but with a fiery and flavoursome background.
“We particularly pride ourselves on our unusual flavour combinations,” continues Stephen, who has long been a member of Local Food Britain. “For example, our Barbecue Hot Sauce includes Belgian beer, blackberries and chocolate. We also use a very high number of ingredients compared to most producers – with some of our products containing almost 30.”
The achievement is all the more impressive when you consider that the business is run in Stephen’s spare time – he also works full time as a legal compliance project manager in the field of technical consulting. Luckily, he is fortunate to have an amazing team behind him, with his wife, Sam, doing all of the cooking, and his daughter, Maisie, nine, helping out with almost every aspect of the business.
“It was partly because of Maisie that the whole thing first started,” says Stephen. “She always loved playing shops and selling things on the driveway, and I had all these homemade chilli sauces, and the two things just fed into each other. Now, Maisie is living the dream playing shops in the real world, and is as much as part of the business as I am. In fact, she is with me at almost all of the events I attend.
“Often, we’ll be getting up at 6am to go to a market and won’t be back home until after 6pm, but she never complains. She even created her own sauce recently, The Mild Beast, and it sold out on the first day.”
As for what comes next for this up-and-coming business, Stephen says they are happy at the level they are now – at least for the time-being – as, in spite of all the hard work, he genuinely loves being so hands-on with everything. One thing is certain though – it’s all a far cry from that solitary chilli plant on the windowsill.