DENVER, Colo. — Father’s Day Weekend and the 4th of July are two signs it’s grilling season. A Denver hot sauce company is ready to spice up whatever you’re cooking. You’re in good company with Merfs.
Kelly Schexnaildre didn’t set out to be a hot sauce maker, but growing up in Louisiana, it came naturally.
“I just got used to eating spicy food,” she said. “We eat a lot of spicy food in Louisiana already, and then my mom just kind of paved the way for me to have a high tolerance for it.”
So, she started pairing foods and flavors together with a garden in her backyard.
“I wrote a recipe for a peach habanero hot sauce that had peaches, habaneros, lemon juice, salt,” Schexnaildre said. “I made a batch of it, and my friends and family were like ‘Oh my God! This is one of the best hot sauces I’ve ever had.'”
Now you can find her brand Merfs, which is named after her dog, at dozens of eateries around the Denver metro area.
In fact, restaurants were 80% of her business until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and she had to scramble to stay afloat.
“Money was falling from the sky,” she said about Merfs’ 2019 business year. “We couldn’t have been in a better position to grow, and then to have to hit the brakes for two years was really tough. It hurt my feelings.”
Three years later, Merfs has rebounded in a big way. Schexnaildre offers 12 different hot and wing sauces in her arsenal. Each have a catchy name — like Electric Lime made with Colorado-grown jalapenos and chiles. Another popular one is called Hand Grenade.
“I eat Hand Grenade on literally everything,” she said. “It’s my all-purpose red hot sauce. It’s in the fridge at all times. I put it on everything from pizza to burgers to eggs to just ramen. I mean you freaking name it, I’m eating Hand Grenade on it.”
But every hot sauce maker knows, you have to offer something that delivers the extreme heat. And that’s her Cooyon Superhot sauce.
“So, cooyon is the Cajun French word for ‘idiot,'” Schexnaildre said. “So, this is my like extremely hot. You’re-going-to-be-miserable-for-15-minutes sort of hot sauce.”
She said she doesn’t warn people about the heat because true hot sauce lovers expect it. Her Cooyon Superhot sauce includes an extract that rates 6 million units on the Scoville Scale. For comparison, the Carolina reaper pepper rates at 2 million units.
There is a Scoville Scale label on all of her bottles. Merfs has varieties ranging from mild to the highest levels.
“Oh man, the goal is just that they love it, right?” she said about Merfs customers. “They have that first or second taste, and they think ‘I can’t live without this stuff. Where can I buy more?'”