Mountaintop residents Mark and Debbie Robbins have been the recent recipients of seven national awards for one of their hot sauce recipes.
Pi Rho Peppers is the Robbins’ one-year-old pepper growing and hot sauce making venture. Mark, a teacher at Pocono Mountain East High School, grew up growing, canning, and eating peppers with his dad. He continued the tradition with his own garden, eventually experimenting with sauces and powders with the extra peppers he grew. Recently, however, feedback from friends and family and the expense of growing and making recipes convinced him to begin selling in small circles. It was not long after they began selling their sauces, that Mark realized he had a very promising product.
“I’ve been eating peppers my whole life,” relates Mark. “I started looking to other ways to use them and started with sauces and recipes, then zeroed in on a few good ones and decided to ‘go pro’ as they say.”
Mark acknowledges that he received a lot of help from the “chilli head” community when he decided to take his hobby to the next level. He found an online community at The Hot Pepper, a site for folks who were passionate about hot peppers and spicy foods to interact and share ideas and experiences. There, Mark received advice from those in the business on growing peppers, starting sauces, and getting noticed. Once he felt he had a sauce that was worthy, he entered the Brooklyn, NY based competition from The Hot Pepper.
“People are really nice and showed me a lot of guidance,” says Mark. “I had the confidence in my sauces and wanted to see if others liked them too.”
The Hot Pepper, which incorporates sauce entries from across the U. S. and abroad, was the first show Mark and Debbie had ever entered. Their “Dat’s My’en” Smokey Pineapple Sauce includes the Orange Habanero Pepper as a mainstay and received first place for Best Overall Hot Sauce, Best Pepper Specialty, Best Fruit Based sauce and Best Sweet Hot Sauce. It also received the Foodie Award for best hot sauce on pulled pork and the business received the Seedling Award for Best Industry Newcomer in the Ninth Annual Hot Pepper Awards, a national hot sauce and spicy foods competition. Both Debbie and Mark are thrilled with the way the sauce fared with the panel of judges.
“I beat out some of my heroes in the business,” adds Mark. “It was nice I was up there with people like that in recognition for the sauce.”
The Robbins’ have several distinct products in the Pi Rho Peppers inventory, and pay homage to the company’s NEPA Roots by naming them after distinct NEPA vernacular. Their signature Dat’s My’en, sauce had its name inspired during a game of Pitch. The Moruga Scorpion and the Carolina Reaper Peppers, now considered the hottest in the world with a very distinctive “floral” undertone, is prevalent in their Heyna? Erneaux? Hot Sauce. They also offer other specialties such as Chipotle and Habanero Ketchups, and Sweet Jalapeño and Habanero Dipping Mustards.
Mark credits his wife, Debbie, as the backbone of the company, keeping the business end of Pi Rho Peppers running smoothly with her talents as a CPA. And while he says that he is not sure where Pi Rho Peppers will go next, he is looking to produce the Dat’s My’en sauce on a larger scale, and eventually produce sauces for wholesale. For now, Mark says they are happy bringing their product to festivals and farmers markets across NEPA.
“I am not really sure where the goal is. We’re going with the flow and seeing where this takes us. If I make enough to pay for my hobby to keep growing peppers and making new recipes, I’ll be happy,” concludes Mark.
For more information on Pi Rho
Peppers, visit pirhopeppers.com