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After growing up daring his brother to ‘eat hotter stuff,’ he’s building a hot sauce empire

Gloved hands push a mass of empty brown glass bottles on a table.
A Village Green Foods employee fills a customer order. Scott Zalkind, who owns Lucky Dog Hot Sauce, is a Village Green success story.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Scott Zalkind, a Hayward, Calif.-based hot sauce maker, is one of Village Green Foods’ success stories. His company, Lucky Dog Hot Sauce, sells its products online and in more than 300 grocery stores nationwide, and has been featured on a hot sauce-based TV show, “Hot Ones.”

But it took a while to get there.

Back in 2005, Zalkind was working as a project manager in healthcare but wasn’t thrilled about his career trajectory. In his free time he was experimenting with hot sauces in his kitchen at home. “I was a hobbyist for a long time,” he said.

“I’ve always loved spicy foods, since I was a little kid,” Zalkind added. “My brother and I would always dare each other to eat hotter stuff.” As an adult, he asked his friends to bring him bottles of hot sauce from their travels. He started making his own about 16 years ago. “The industry kind of lost its mind,” he said. Sauces were either “stupid, crazy hot” or packed with flavor but too mild for his taste.

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Village Green Foods in Irvine helps home cooks pursue their culinary dreams.

He spent the next five or six years perfecting his recipe, making about 20 to 30 bottles at a time, keeping a couple and giving the rest away to friends and local business owners. Then he started getting interest from restaurant chefs and grocery store owners — people outside his immediate circle. So in 2012 he made the decision to change careers and concentrate on his hot sauce.

He tried several manufacturers, including one that used pre-julienned, flash-frozen onions from New Jersey, which didn’t jibe with his California-sourced ingredients philosophy. One of the workers at that company tipped him off to Village Green Foods.

“I really liked their style,” he said. “I liked their willingness to locally source.”

Zalkind started selling at farmers markets but quickly expanded to Bay Area grocery stores, wineries and bagel shops. The Cost Plus World Market chain carries one of his sauces as well.

Nine years later, Village Green Foods remains “a really good partner.” His products have been honored with scores of national awards from food and barbecue festivals, and they are available in hundreds of stores nationwide.


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