Oscar Segura let me know that because he was at the doctor with his grandson, he might be a little late for our meeting.
This was not a surprise; after all, to Segura, family always comes first.
His family owns Poblano Hot Sauce Inc., at 3250 S. Dodge Blvd.—and the Segura family has a long and proud business history in the Old Pueblo.
Poblano Hot Sauce has been around since 1924, when Segura's father, Nicolas, started the company. Nicolas was the first to introduce tacos to the Tucson area, Oscar claims. But after a while, sales started to dwindle, so his wife said he should give away a free root beer with each taco purchase. This helped bring sales back up—but Nicolas also felt the tacos needed a little spicing up.
That's when Oscar's father started experimenting with hot-sauce recipes. He came up with one he liked, and he started putting it on his tacos.
However, he didn't start bottling and selling his hot sauce until the 1940s, when he finally did what his friends had been telling him to do since 1924. The first hot-sauce business was located at 126 W. Ochoa St. Later, a friend helped him get his sauce into the bigger supermarket chains in the area.
"I would guess that would have been about 1944, so I would have been about 10 years old," Oscar says about the beginning of the hot-sauce business. "I remember washing out empty clear Miller bottles my dad got from his friend. We had three buckets: one to wash them in, one for rinsing, and the third one was for something we had never heard of, but my father said it was very important for a business—it was sanitizer."
Nicolas used a little homemade bottle-capper and put the labels on himself. He even used to de-stem the chilies by hand until a friend convinced him to buy a grinder.
Today, the Poblano Hot Sauce team consists of Oscar; his wife, Gloria; and their children and grandson. He even gets a business boost from a son who is in the Navy; Oscar sends him little plastic containers of the sauce to share, and when his fellow servicemen and servicewomen get back to the U.S., many of them remember the sauce and start placing orders.
Segura takes all of the orders, and his wife is in charge of the shipments. Their average output per day is about 940 bottles, he says—though the number is higher in the summer, because the labels dry faster than in the winter.
Segura says the company has taken a hit in the poor economy, mostly because some of the stores that used to carry the sauce have closed down. But Segura says he's optimistic, because they have seen new interest from stores in other states; they just received an order from a store in Ohio, and are in talks with another in Chicago.
He claims that many dedicated customers live out of state; most of them get hooked on the hot sauce when they're here in Tucson. "We have a lot of people who come in to stock up whenever they're in town. They say, 'I'm here to get my stash.' It's pretty funny," he says.
The Seguras have been hearing from some customers that none of their sauces were hot enough, so they developed two new flavors: one made from yellow peppers, and another made from habañero peppers. They're just waiting on the nutritional-information for the labels, and they hope to release the new flavors by the beginning of April. This will expand their sauce collection to six, joining the original, salsa ranchera, red jalapeño and green jalapeño kinds.
The only piece of equipment in the factory is that chili grinder; the rest of the work is still done by hand. Segura says that one day, they may expand to a larger factory and buy machines to fill, cap and label the bottles, in an effort to stay competitive with larger companies. But for now, Segura says he's happy with the way things are going, and hopes business will return to pre-recession levels.
"A lot of people knew my father and knew about the sauce because of him," Segura says. "I just hope we can get word out to the younger generations."
Segura also hopes to learn from younger generations—and again, it involves family.
"My grandson has been teaching me e-mail, and we're hoping to get the Web site up soon. When that is up, then we can start getting orders online."
Poblano Hot Sauce is available at Fry's, Food City, Bashas' and many other stores throughout Arizona. They also take orders by phone. For more information, call 519-1330.