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Ask an Expert: Making All-Natural, Small-Batch Hot Sauce in San Diego with Dave & Justine of Baby Clydesdale

May 9, 2018
Credit: Stacy Keck Photogrpahy

Photography by Stacy Keck and @cookesinthekitchen

Hot sauce, hot sauce, hot sauce. If you’re like me, you put hot sauce on everything. It doesn’t matter the type of cuisine or the time of day, there is ALWAYS room for a little more heat. So, when I first discovered Baby Clydesdale back in September 2015 at the Slow Food Urban San Diego Good Food Community Fair, I was intrigued, but it wasn’t until the summer of 2017 that a taste of their small batch sriracha sparked an obsession.

Their Sriracha, Carrot Habanero Ginger, and Spicy Vegan Pesto are 100% vegan and gluten-free, while the Lemongrass BBQ has honey and soy sauce in it. They are all made with fresh chilies for a clean, all-natural hot sauce that is addictively good.

If you’ve been to the Baby Clydesdale booth at the North Park, PB or Little Italy farmers markets, you know Dave and Justine, but if not, this is your chance to get to know the innovative couple behind San Diego’s own small-batch hot sauce empire.

The Birth of Baby Clydesdale

Back in 2012, Dave and I were dating long distance,” Justine said. The two had met at Soda Bar where Dave’s band was playing a set. “I was going to grad school in San Francisco and Dave was in a band here in San Diego and going to school for holistic health in PB. Dave was a really strict vegan and into nutrition, so he’d make these really healthy meals and then squirt commercial hot sauce all over it. He noticed there was a bunch of junk in there, so he figured, why not make my own? So, he started making hot sauces at home."

He also thought that he could make a little extra cash to help offset the cost of his trips to visit Justine in San Francisco by selling his sauces at his shows.

“Making some extra gas money didn’t really work out, but it turned in to something fun that we did together. Fast forward a few years to 2015, when I parted ways with my family auto shop business. I didn’t have plan but I knew I wanted to be my own boss so we thought, Ok should we do this for real? and that’s when it all started,” Dave explained.

A Different Kind of Hot Sauce

"We wanted to make a hot sauce that could be as healthy as the food you would be eating it on. All of our hot sauces use fresh peppers which is a differentiating factor. We literally de-stem everything by hand. Its super time consuming,” said Dave. “If I was just going to do what was already existing, then why bother? It wasn’t what I set out to do.”

Moving Beyond Sriracha

"It took a lot of time for us to get up and running. The permitting process took a lot longer than expected. So, in that time, I decided to keep experimenting,” Dave said. “I thought of our Spicy Vegan Pesto on a bike ride and I literally made it right when I got home. That has been far and away our farmers market ‘little darling’.”

What’s cool about having the line of sauces that we do is that they’re all so different, so you don’t feel weird buying all four at once. They all serve different purposes. It’s been really fun at the farmers markets to see that we are helping people cook, because that’s what we really love to do,” Justine said.

A lot of craft hot sauce have this hyper-masculine thing where they want to make the spiciest hot sauce possible. Hot sauce culture is interesting,” Justine added. “We don’t measure the Scoville unit of each one of our batches. We aren’t trying to hurt peoples taste buds.  Our main goal is to ultimately make hot sauce that is healthy and tasty with the right amount of heat.”

No Wrong Way to Eat a Baby Clydesdale

"I love our Spicy Vegan Pesto on my eggs in the morning,” Justine said, adding that customers are a major source of inspiration when it comes to new ways of eating the sauces.

“We have these new friends who are our ultimate customers at the market. It’s a husband and wife (and their two kids) who started an incredible Instagram @cookesinthekitchen where they make delicious meals for their family. We started having them create recipes for us to put on our blog and send out in our newsletter.” An recent favorite was their easy pesto pasta, which uses a WHOLE jar of Baby Clydesdale Spicy Vegan Pesto.

“Our friend Witt, of Witt’s Pickles uses our Sriracha in his pickles. He uses super quality ingredients and a quick pickle method. His pickles are out of control,” Dave added.

"We literally have a few people that will come to all our weekly markets and get our Spicy Vegan Pesto at each one because they love it so much," said Justine. "I just love the thought of our sauces being in people’s fridges!"

The True Story Behind the Name “Baby Clydesdale”

So, what’s the real story behind the name?

It was a name I had for Justine…”Dave said.

It was a silly, term of endearment,” Justine explained. “He’d make me do this little kick thing, and it was around the time that he started making his hot sauce. So, when we decided to run with it, he insisted that our hot sauce already had a name.”

But that explanation didn’t go over very well at first.  “When we first started at farmers markets and people would ask for the story behind our name, we would tell people the truth and some women would be like “You let him call you Baby Clydesdale? Oh, hell no”!” Justine said. “A lot of people didn’t think it was cute, so we revised our story. We now tell people that we named it that because all our sauces have a little kick… but you guys know the real story now.”

Justine and Dave, Beyond the Clydesdale

Besides making hot sauce, these San Diego locals have a lot going on. Dave is a drummer in a band called ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Exasperation, who recently recorded an album. Go watch them play at Crushfest II on May 27th at Helmuth Projects.

In an unexpected career change since starting Baby Clydesdale, Justine now works for the InTents Conference, helping other small business owners connect and grow.

Buy Baby Clydesdale

Find the sauces at Specialty Produce, Cardiff Seaside Market,  and Venissimo Cheese North Park, or directly online at Note: You can only get the fresh vegan pesto from Dave and Justine’s farmers market tables, which they man weekly in PB, North Park, and Little Italy. (You can also get a taste at Hawthorne Coffee on their Spicy Vegan Pesto Toast.)

*Tip from Dave and Justine: If you want us to be in the store; tell the store and we’ll make it happen.

Stephanie Parker
Stephanie Parker is the founder and CEO of Epicurean San Diego, a local agritourism and events company. She is a committed locavore who serves as the Farm Liaison on the board for Slow Food Urban San Diego. In her free time you’ll find her outside with her dogs, cooking at home with her husband or dining out with friends.
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