VA Made: Clark + Hopkins

Real estate agent and former culinary graduate Brandon Clark creates his own Winchester-based hot sauce brand.

Photo by Mike Ramm

Extracurricular activities aren’t just for getting into college. They can also help you get into Costco.

Brandon Clark plays tennis with a group of guys. They drink beer, and apparently, swap hot sauces. One of the tennis players used to work at Costco. He took home Clark’s hot sauce, dumped it on some leftover meatloaf and told him, “This is gonna sell.”

Clark met with Costco buyers, but because he only started bottling hot sauces that very month— March 2017—he couldn’t produce any sales history or growth. They told him to come back next year; they meet again next month.

Between try-outs with a corporate giant, Clark + Hopkins brand hot sauces, based out of Winchester, has been concentrating on lining the shelves of retails shops, and not on expanding the line-up.

Hot sauces stem from places of origin, with each tied to a specific country or region: Laos, Ethiopia, Kerala (one of Clark’s other tennis friends is from this coastal section of India), Chesapeake Bay and Virginia, which late last year earned a spin-off thanks to Catoctin Creek Distilling Company.

When Clark finished lunch at Magnolias at the Mill in Purcellville, he dropped samples by the distillery. Clark says the store manager called soon after about collaborating. Clark then aged his Virginia hot sauce formula, based on barbecue recipes from the 1860s featuring peaches and peanuts, for 60 days in Catoctin’s rye barrels.

Though Clark stockpiled more than 20 hot sauce recipes, such as Maine (blueberries) and Guadalajara (chili and chocolate mole base), 2018 will be another brand-building year. He hopes to get into the NYC Hot Sauce Expo and into the lineup of Fuego Box (a monthly hot sauce club). He’s already inked a deal for including Chesapeake Bloody Mary mix into the packaging for Purity Vodka.

The former culinary graduate with years of service in the industry dropped out of the field after a corporate gig left him feeling unconnected with food. He’s now a real estate agent, but just as soon as he started, he dove into his home kitchen, messing around with hot sauces. “I grew up in a family where we discussed dinner over breakfast,” says Clark. Some habits never die.

(January 2018)