Agite bien (shake well)

by Karl Yares/El Inde

People know a good hot sauce when they taste it. Some prefer a vinegar based offering, while others go for a roasted chili option. In Tucson, there is a local favorite that has been in operation since 1924: Poblano. The small operation has quite a following but maintains its family-owned roots. This can cause supply issues for those who need that little kick in their taco or burrito. 

Peter Yares found himself craving the dark red liquid gold in the summer of 2019 with nary a drop in sight. Rumors of rogue cases available for order from an Asian market in Tucson swirled among his Los Angeles group of friends. Yares had been consuming, gifting, and even selling the stuff for over a decade while living in New York City. He recognized there was a niche for small scale hot sauce then, but as an entrepreneur, Yares didn’t yet need to develop his own with the precious Poblano readily available. After a cross-country move from one city to another, Yares found Tucson’s favorite burn-in-a-bottle hard to come by.

He was doing consulting work remotely and had some time to kill while living in a two-bedroom LA bungalow. One day, the displays of chili peppers in the local supermarket inspired him to make his own spicy concoction. Through trial and error, Yares worked with his friend and roommate Arian Jalali to blend the flavors of roasted chilis and vinegar-based sauce. The right blend of spices was hard to assess without careful experimentation and documentation. 

A fan of the animated show “King of the Hill,” Yares had always laughed at an episode where Hank Hill tries to prank call his mother. “Hello?,” says Mrs. Hill. “This is Prince Jabaa-ri,” says Hank Hill in his best impression of a scammer with an accent. “Hank, is that you? Do you need money?,” his mother asks. “No, this is Prince Jabaa-ri,” Hank answers, not fooling her for a second. This sequence became the inspiration for the new hot sauce’s name: Jabari.

Jabari Sauce’s label shows some of its ingredients: “distilled vinegar, red fresno chili, fresh habanero peppers, serrano peppers, spice.” Peter says he doesn’t mind disclosing the peppers he uses because the spice blend is the variable that would be hardest for a competitor to replicate. 

Since founding the fledgling company, Yares and Jalali have tried to grow demand by word of mouth. Organic growth of a consumer base helps ensure Jabari Sauce doesn’t get behind on orders they can’t immediately fulfill.

“That’s what happened to Poblano, people liked it, loved it, then got pretty upset when orders weren’t met,” said Yares, talking about interruptions in supply from the Tucson favorite. “If I got an order for three thousand bottles to be delivered this month, I would have to decline because I don’t have that inventory, I don’t want that to happen,” he said.

Production of Jabari Sauce, or any other food product, requires licenses, permits, and the use of a commercial kitchen. Kitchens of restaurants can be rented for this purpose and Jabari Sauce has been produced in several of them around town including Thunder Canyon Brewery, located downtown. Yares found a source for bottles and contracted a graphic designer to come up with a logo. The small anthropomorphized cartoon chili sports a large crown and points to the right with a smile. The label advises its holder to “shake well” and warns the sauce is “hot” with Spanish translations provided. Icons proclaiming the contents to be vegan and gluten free adorn the front. Opposite the nutrition facts is a picture of the chili mascot again, this time suggesting to “order more sauce!”

Orders come in from around the country and the piquant product is already in use at some bars and eateries around Tucson. At the Downtown Clifton Hotel and Bar one can get Jabari added to a michelada or bloody mary. Art House Centro, found within the LaCo Complex downtown, has bottles available for purchase as does Wooden Tooth Records.

Yares works a full-time job with a contractor in Tucson so anything hot sauce-related must be done on the side. Eventually, he hopes, the side project can become the main event. Until then he plans to keep growing the company slowly, mainly by word of mouth, to stay in front of demand. A green sauce is in development but the research and development wing of Jabari will keep working until it’s ready for the public.

Peter Yares roasts chilis bound for Jabari Sauce in Tucson, AZ.
Photo by Karl Yares/El Inde.