Confidentials steps inside the Thiccc Sauce factory with founder, Luca Rollini, following the brand’s third birthday.
Under the railway arches in Holbeck, a string of units are housed behind pillar box red concertina shutters and tunnels of barbed wire: A café selling baps to local construction workers; an electric scooter come e-bike shop; an empty media studio. At the centre of such an industrial area, it feels surprisingly calm and quiet. I pedalled down to Thiccc Sauce’s new premises, right at the end of the row, on one of the hottest days of the year, expecting a blazing inferno of spice and heavy metal music.
In fact, the front office area is painted a cooling everglade green. Plants in bamboo baskets hanged above shelving showcasing the Thiccc Sauce core range, their signature tattoo-style artwork, and merchandise from past collaborations. Pinned to the wall near the loo, there was what appeared to be a large Slipknot T-towel. The production kitchen, a couple of steps further through, is compact and immaculately clean.
I ate a raw reaper once. Never again
On a shining silver countertop lay trays of green jalapenos and crinkled Scotch Bonnets. Here vegetables from local Leeds suppliers are sweated down in huge seventy litre pots and stirred with oar-like paddles on jet black induction hobs. The hand blender is a mere arm span in length. To one side, ten-kilogram containers of vinegar and fermented mash add the all-important salt, acidity, and shelf life to the end product. This fiery mash also proves the chilli peppers’ origin, many of which are grown across the coffee regions of Ecuador, Columbia and Peru.
Instead of spices singeing my nostril hairs as anticipated, the space smelled of warm, sterile resin. Luca showed me over to the bags of chromatic wax blocks, each chunky crayon with its own saucepan for melting to the correct viscosity. His secret signature method sees bottles dipped and left for the wax to dribble aesthetically down the sides. Every single one is unique. Even the colour of the wax is matched meticulously to the character of the sauce and the label design. Before being packed into crates to send out to customers, each bottle is sealed with a protective hamsa stamp on the lid.
It's a far cry from a cramped kitchen in Nottingham, where Luca’s journey began three years ago. “[Thiccc Sauce] started in lockdown 2020, when I went back to live with my Mum,” Luca explained. “We created a batch of scotch bonnet hot sauce with some simple ingredients from the supermarket, and bottled around ten bottles to sell on Instagram via DM’s. They sold out, so I made twice the amount again, they sold out…..and so on.”
Apparently his Mum’s taste buds aren’t as robust as his own, (“I ate a raw reaper once, never again” he insists), but Luca’s baptism of fire was during childhood. “I remember my dad used to put bottles of hot sauce on the table when we ate chilli con carne when I was young, and I think that was my first memory of ever trying something of any spice level. Start them young!” he declared.
But it was a trip to the U.S, that had Luca fired up and ready to build a business that doesn’t compromise on quality. “I recently travelled to America for three months on a long holiday,” he said. “And after spending the whole time eating and drinking all over the East and West Coast, I came home with lots of inspiration on wanting to create my own sauce with a specific appearance.” He credits “trial and error” as a major factor in getting to where he is today, but with Dragon Deborah Meaden as a customer, I feel there may have been a hell of a lot of hard work involved too.
Thankfully, Luca’s background in hospitality has granted him an impressive list of contacts, from breweries to street food traders, all keen to work with one of the baddest brands around. There’s the sticky sweet national Honest Burger special, featuring a; The hot sauce with Manchester condiment kings - Lou’s Brews, and a smoky , infused with Neon Catctus’ birria taco broth.
Development days see chefs come down to the kitchen with recipes and ingredients to try out new flavour combinations – Luca’s preferred method of partnering with another company. Without naming names, he mentioned other brands copping out by merely sticking two products together on a label. It’s this detailed, personal approach that sets Thiccc Sauce apart. And talking of labels, each design is stuck on by hand. Front and back. A laborious job. Luca admitted they could save time with a wrap-around the bottle, but insisted this small batch approach adds to their charm and USP.
I asked Luca about his favourite collaboration to date. “Christmas 2022 we teamed up withto brew a super thick cherry chocolate and chilli sour and a vegan chocolate chilli spread with cherry. We’ve never created a chocolate spread before, but we loved how it turned out and loved the new challenge,” he enthused.
With the artisan hot sauce market moving in the same direction as craft beer, Luca has his sights set Stateside for his next brewery collaboration. Having amassed a dedicated fan base of grim reapers, it seems nothing’s too hot for Thiccc Sauce to handle.
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Header Image: Chowdown
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