Four years ago, Sufia Hossain left the bustling world of New York fashion to put her energy into something she considered even more spicy and exciting. Bangladesh-born and Queens, New York–raised, she is the first in her family to start her own business. But it’s not something she always imagined she’d do.
“I would go to the farmers’ market, bring home all these peppers, and that’s when I started exploring hot sauce,” Hossain says. “The peppers and the colors literally talk to me. There was something attracting me to it.”
Hossain’s company, Silly Chilly Hot Sauce, began four years ago in her Hoboken kitchen. Perfecting her sauces required a lot of trial and error. The Bangladeshi meals she would eat as a kid were packed with flavor—something she wanted to recreate in her own hot sauces. She strived to make sauces that were not only packed with heat but were also versatile enough to enhance many different kinds of food.
We caught up with Hossain to ask about her hot sauces and what she has enjoyed most about being an entrepreneur. (This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.)
Table Hopping: Was there a turning point that led you from fashion to the kitchen?
Sufia Hossain: I was living the city life with a dream job in corporate, but I was very unhappy inside. Not necessarily because of the job, but more related to my internal happiness. I felt like I wasn’t doing anything meaningful with my life. Now I work with farmers, local suppliers and vendors, and I feel like I have that clarity.
TH: Did you ever think this is where your career would take you?
SH: I was born in Bangladesh, and hot sauce is not something we eat with food in my culture. It’s moreso the spices that make things flavorful. A lot of the commercial sauces out there aren’t flavorful enough—they’re just vinegar, some pepper flakes and color. In Bangladesh, we don’t eat much dry food. It’s a lot of saucy food, so that’s kind of my inspiration.
TH: What was it like going through all of that trial and error?
SH: I was doing the same thing over and over, trying to learn. When I look back, I’m like, “I could’ve given up.” But I kept going. There was something that was attracting me, so I never gave up. You know how we fall in love, and people ask, “Why do you love this person?” It was like that, an unspoken thing. I didn’t know I was going to run a company—I just had this attraction to making the sauces.
TH: Which local farmers help you make your product?
SH: We’ve been working with the student farm at Rutgers University to grow the majority of our peppers. In New Jersey, there are a lot of farms, and we help out whomever we can. If they have a lot of inventory peppers, we buy from them.
TH: You mentioned you wanted your sauces to have flavor, not just heat. What are the different kinds of Silly Chilly Hot Sauce?
SH: I have three flavors. The mild one, which is not spicy, is mango and fresh sweet pepper; it’s like an everyday sauce. Growing up in Bangladesh, I ate a lot of mangoes; this recipe is kind of sweeter. The second is serrano and chipotle. The flavor is phenomenal—it’s more smoky hot. The third is habanero, which is a very popular flavor in the USA right now.
TH: Do you have a favorite?
SH: The habanero. It’s like my pick-me-up. I add it to everything, and you just need a little bit. I’m also working on a Bangladeshi sauce that I’ll be launching this summer—a few of them, actually.
TH: What kind of flavors go into a Bangladeshi sauce?
SH: I grew up watching my mom use a lot of spices, and the basic spices in our household are turmeric, chili pepper powder and cumin powder. So I’m working on a vegan cooking sauce based around that. People can buy the jar and add the sauce to any protein.
TH: Being a first-generation American, what’s it like to own a business based on the spices you grew up with in Bangladesh?
SH: I’m actually the first female business owner/entrepreneur in my generation. Usually family encourages you to pursue medical school or engineering school, so what I am doing is kind of odd—I’m not following the traditional path. It’s a blessing, being an immigrant here, because I have the taste of two different cultures. I’m really appreciating the good things. I don’t take anything for granted.
TH: What’s been your favorite part of this journey?
SH: I’m still learning every day. My favorite part is the amount of individuals I have been meeting through my journey as an entrepreneur. When I worked in New York, I saw a limited number of people every day. When I became an entrepreneur, I began meeting hundreds of people weekly and monthly through demos, trade shows and different events. That really helped me find and understand myself even better. Of course, a favorite part is when they tell me they love my sauce. But I love meeting people and building relationships with them.
Silly Chilly Hot Sauce is available for purchase on their website and on Amazon. The peppers used are sourced from the student farm at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. You can also find the sauces in local stores in New Jersey and New York. Check out the Silly Chilly Hot Sauce Instagram page for updates.Click here to leave a comment