I remember parking behind the venue and seeing other hot sauce folks loading their booths into shopping carts before pushing them towards the dock entrance. This would be our first festival and I had no idea how it would go down. I’d been speaking to other makers through txt and social media but had still not really met anyone actually “doing this.” I recognized a brand and the couple that went with it and immediately went over and introduced myself. They were nice, maybe a little weary, but definitely polite. We ended up being in the spot right next to them and we got to shoot the shit during down times. When the show was over and we were parting it got a bit weird.

“Look,” he said, “the thing is that a lot of people get into hot sauce or growing peppers or whatever and they just don’t last long.”

“I bet,” I said jokingly, “this takes stamina!”

“Well yeah, but what I mean is most people have this great idea or a funny concept and they don’t understand the work that it takes, let alone the business sense, but we meet new groups all the time and then, next festival – they’re gone,” he said. “So, it’s like, everybody’s friendly, but you kinda got to prove your longevity before you gain acceptance around here.”

“I get it,” and I really tried to be reserved here, “every community has their own measuring stick. I’m more interested in the experience, I guess. The gatekeepers can take it or leave it but I’ll just keep showing up until I don’t.”

He took this well and told me he hoped to see us at the next fest and reiterated again that they were just a phone call away if I had any more questions. I thanked him and we parted ways. The next big event turned out to be Covid and it overshadowed every other event to the point that, as we all know, Covid was the only event.

JuicyMelt was this new when lockdowns began and as we now approach a new season where things actually happen, I am left wondering what our bigger, less localized communities will be like? In 2020 the local markets we are involved in seem to have tightened up. Vendors banded together behind their market managers and social media became a way to not only advertise but also post the newest health mandates and spread information about how to interact in our new world. We propped each other up and more than anything we physically saw each other. We were behind masks and 6’ away but we were there. And I for one, felt that.

I look back on that parting conversation often these days, the useless premonition of it all. I like to believe those of us that fared this storm have replenished our good will banks and are better prepared than ever to recognize each other as well as those we lost. Sometimes just getting to start is the battle. And while I hope to see all of those smiling faces, sweaty brows, and infamous brands from across the lands – I am resolved that they will also see JuicyMelt.


Thanks for reading,


Jeffrey McElfresh
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