"This is the holy grail of the hot-sauce industry — the Oprah's Book Club of hot sauce, if you will," says Shaun Goodwin about the popular First We Feast YouTube series Hot Ones.
In the show, host Sean Evans interviews celebrities as they eat a series of ten wings doused in progressively spicier hot sauces.
will premiere its eighteenth season on May 19. The show's hot-sauce lineup changes every season and includes products from around the country. The fifth hot sauce in the lineup this time around is made by Goodwin, whose company, Sauce Leopard, was a pandemic startup. It's the first sauce from a Denver business to be chosen for the show; Boulder's Seed Ranch Flavor Co.
and the Fort Collins-based Burns & McCoy
were included on previous seasons.
Goodwin has lived in Denver for nearly a decade, and worked mainly in the service and music industries before 2020. His promotion company, Dust Presents, was behind Decemburger, a heavy-metal music fest crossed with a burger-eating competition that was held at the hi-dive, as well as the Electric Funeral Festival, a metal-packed South Broadway block party that ran for four years. "I was looking to take a break from that. Then COVID hit, and it was the perfect excuse to put that to rest — temporarily, at least," he says.
Shaun Goodwin started Sauce Leopard after being laid off from his bartending job in 2020.
He'd already been experimenting with hot sauces at home, sharing them with family and friends, and launched a web store in early 2020, "not really anticipating going full-time with it," he admits. But when he was laid off from his bartending job, he leaned into Sauce Leopard full-time. "By March and April 2020, I really started to do the research," he recalls. By July of that year, the business was fully licensed and operational.
Goodwin found a space in a commissary kitchen where he made sauces one day a week, while spending the rest of his time going store to store trying to pick up accounts. The business gained momentum quickly, thanks in part to his connections in the food and music industries. Today his products are in around 100 retail locations in ten states, and Hot Ones
is likely to give the business a bump, especially since the show sells each season's sauces online at heatonist.com.
"I watched the show on and off," Goodwin says of Hot Ones
, which debuted in 2015. "But once I got into the hot-sauce game, I started really paying attention." He also started sending his sauces to the show for consideration. "It's a cool thing they do for small businesses; it's a major, major boost, and it's probably every hot-sauce company's goal. It's a big achievement. I honestly didn't expect it to happen for a long time. It seemed like a long shot," he admits.
But one of his creations caught the attention of the show's producers. The chosen hot sauce is the Seventh Reaper, created when Goodwin's friend Connor Lock asked him to make a hot sauce for the seventh anniversary of his design company, Seven.
Lock, who's half Argentinian, pitched the idea of doing a red version of chimichurri made with a tomato base instead of the traditional green herbs. Goodwin added heat with Carolina Reaper chiles, and Lock headed up the label design (Goodwin typically does that himself). The name is an homage to Lock's company, but also the fact that Seventh Reaper is Sauce Leopard's seventh hot sauce. It was originally a limited release, so "some lucky folks out there got the first iteration of the sauce," Goodwin says.
Colfax Killer is Sauce Leopard's bestseller.
For now, Seventh Reaper is only available on heatonist.com. Sauce Leopard will be selling it directly to customers starting September 1, while the rest of Goodwin's line is available on sauceleopard.com. It includes his bestseller, Colfax Killer, a habanero-spiked sauce made with mango, pineapple and banana. That one got its name not from the actual Colfax Killer — a man who murdered at least seven women in Denver between 1979 and 1988 (something Goodwin only learned about later) — but because Goodwin lived on East Colfax when he created the sauce. "The first batches were made with habaneros grown in my garden," he says.
Although Goodwin is focused on hot sauces, he says he may get back into music events eventually. But for now, he's content imbuing Sauce Leopard with a metal aesthetic through its product names and designs. And thanks to Hot Ones
, soon more people will get to experience Sauce Leopard. While he's not privy to any information about which celebs might be tasting his sauce on the show, "it's really an honor to be included," he says.
Sauce Leopard's products are available in retail locations throughout Colorado and on the company's website; Sauce Leopard will also be at the Central Park Farmers Market every Sunday from June 5 to October 9. For more information, including store locations, visit sauceleopard.com.