Tucson has a reputation for its heat. The Segura family has done its part to keep Tucson well stocked with heat for 82 years.
“Don” Nicolas Segura founded Poblano Hot Sauce Inc. in 1924. Segura also had a taco shop in downtown Tucson n he says he was the first to introduce the folded taco to Tucson n but after a cooking accident left him unable to continue cooking, he pursued the hot sauce business.
Nicolas got over his initial uncertainties about how to go about running a hot sauce business and, after some time, distribution of his salsas spread all over the state.
Segura died in 1985 but he left his recipes to his son Oscar, who had been involved with the business since 1970. The younger Segura bought the business from his mother, picking up where his father left off.
Over the 82 years, not much has changed in how Poblano sauces are made n it’s all by hand.
In the small warehouse on South Dodge Boulevard, Oscar and his family hand mixes 50-gallon batches of hot sauce at a time. Four 55-gallon drums sit in the middle of the room, one of each flavor n Salsa Ranchero, Mexican Hot Sauce, Mexican Green Jalapeño Salsa and Mexican Red Jalapeño Salsa n ready to be bottled.
Oscar’s son, Oscar Jr. fills up a pitcher, takes a funnel and fills each bottle by hand, while Oscar’s wife and daughter, Gloria and Gloria, place labels on every bottle by hand. The lids are hand tightened and the seal is fastened to the bottle in the same way.
“We make around 480 bottles per day, six days a week,” Oscar Segura said. The family averages nearly 150,000 bottles per year.
Since taking over, Oscar made several minor changes to some of the salsas.
“We began using different peppers because the original chiltepin peppers were too hot for many of the locals,” he said.
According to the website chili-pepper-plants.com, one ounce of chiltepin provides enough heat for 300 gallons of salsa.
“What is the point of having a hot sauce so hot that you cannot taste it? We have tried to keep it hot, but our sauce has so much more flavor to it,” Segura says.
The Mexican Green Jalapeño Sauce is still the same recipe his father learned from his father before him. This particular sauce features a special “#1” label around the neck of the bottle after winning “Best Overall Hot Sauce” at a tequila and hot sauce festival in May this year.
There have been some bumps along the way for Poblano. Shortly after Oscar took over the business, the Food and Drug Administration came around in saying he needed to be a certified hot sauce distributor.
“I think that was due to a hot sauce poison scare in Texas at that time,” Oscar said. “A lot of the hot sauce makers had to become certified.”
Oscar and many others had to take a two-week crash course from the University of Arizona on how to prepare hot sauces because “we had to be certified by their next inspection which was supposed to be in two weeks,” he said.
“We were in class from 7:30 in the morning until 7:30 at night,” Segura said. “But I have it, I am certified.”
Now, Oscar Segura is slowly spreading the warmth across the U.S. as he tries to grow his business. Snowbirds who try his sauces while they are here and can’t find them when they get home are a large part of the reason.
“We get letters and phone calls asking why people can’t find Poblano sauces in North Carolina, or Ohio or wherever,” Oscar said. “We just aren’t that big yet, but we do ship out the sauces when people order it.”
Another method that increases the reaches of his sauces comes from his son Javier, who is currently in the military serving in Iraq.
“We get e-mails from him asking for more hot sauce that ‘the guys are itching from some more hot sauce,’” Oscar said. “It makes the MREs (military talk for Meal, Ready-to-Eat) more eatable.”
Oscar, a military man himself for 9½ years, knows what it can mean to receive something from home while away in a foreign country.
“I just want them to have something from home,” he said. “My wife sent me hot sauce while I was in Korea and Germany and it meant so much to hold onto something from home.”
As he looks to the future, Segura says “Maybe someday we will be very successful and go nationwide and have machines to do all this, but for now, I am content where we are and should demand grow more, I could always hire another person.”
For now, there’s not much alternative, considering the cramped space the company now occupies leaves no room for a bottling machine.
It’s very much a family affair for the Seguras. Oscar and his wife Gloria have eight children, 14 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren n almost all of whom have graduated from Tucson High School. Every now and then, they all find some time to help make the famous sauces.
“One of my 12-year-old great grandsons said to me not to worry that he was going to take over the business for me,” Oscar said. “I let them tighten lids or clean the bottles when they want to come and help. I make them fill out a time card, then, I pay them some money; they love it.”
“We are just trying to follow my father’s tradition of giving the best product available at the best price.” Oscar said. “I am really, really grateful for what he taught me, because if it weren’t for him, our business wouldn’t be so successful.”
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