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Brothers bringing habanero sauces to U.S. since 1989 ready to turn up the heat

  • Melinda's habanero sauce line. (Photo: Courtesy Melinda's)

    Melinda's habanero sauce line. (Photo: Courtesy Melinda's)

  • Melinda's ketchup line. (Photo: Courtesy Melinda's)

    Melinda's ketchup line. (Photo: Courtesy Melinda's)  (Courtesy: Melinda's)

In 1989, the Figueroa brothers set American cooking on fire by introducing the habanero pepper to the United States. Still in college, David Figueroa Jr. and his brother Greg began operating in their parents’ bedroom in New Orleans to create Melinda’s Original Habanero Pepper Sauce, a hot sauce that aims to perfectly balance heat and flavor.

Many Americans had never tasted anything like it.

Today, Melinda’s has sales of $5 million dollars and offers 15 different varieties of hot sauces and 5 different ketchups. The Figueroas import the products of companies in Central America and other countries, and now the brothers are looking into creating a line of barbecue sauces.

For the last 13 years, the Figueroas have pretty much let Melinda’s run on its own, not doing much beyond filling orders. But Greg and David are ready to take control again and bring Melinda’s to new heights – to $30 million in annual sales in the next 5 years, to be exact.

“We’ve got to finish what we started,” David Figueroa, who handles brand marketing, told Fox News Latino. “By getting both of us behind it with all of our strengths, I have no doubt that we’re going to take the company to bigger heights.”

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From an early age, the Figueroa brothers were exposed to the world of haute cuisine. Their mother was a gourmet cook with Belizean roots who filled the house with Latin American delicacies: empanadas, pupusas, calabacitas. And habanero pepper was always available to top off their meals.

In their 27 years of business, the Figueroas have remained at the forefront of the hot sauce industry and have helped popularize the habanero into a household staple.

What was once a 3,000 square feet warehouse has grown into a 100,000 square feet warehouse with 50 employees.

“Once people try Melinda’s, they’ll buy Melinda’s, and our goal is just to get out there and keep people trying Melinda’s,” David told FNL.

The key to the Figueroas' success lies in their all-natural recipe. Melinda’s is created from scratch using carrots, onions, garlic and peppers – the same base ingredients chefs use to start many recipes in French and Creole cooking.

The Figueroas pride themselves on the nutritional value and on the high quality of their products.

For every different pepper sauce, the Figueroa brothers look at the chile, consider its flavor profile and create a unique recipe to complement that particular pepper.

“We don’t just want to be a hot sauce that burns you, we want to be a hot sauce that tastes good – that you can eat on your finger or on a potato chip” David Figueroa said. “We want it to be sufficiently flavorful that the food is optional.”

Yet the Figueroas’ success hasn't come without obstacles. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the brothers had to move their operations to Dallas after 15 years of operation in New Orleans. The company was also caught in a legal battle for several years with one of its international providers. 

Despite these glitches, the company has evolved from a boutique hot sauce company to a manufacturer of diverse products for major stores and restaurant chains around the U.S.

Melinda's is even sold in Germany, Spain, the Philippines and the United Arab Emirates.

“We’re now at 27 years in this business, and I still feel like I’m that kid in college. I still have that energy and that passion for my brand, and so does my brother,” David Figueroa told FNL. “We still have a lot of world to conquer.”

María José Sada is a College Associate at Fox News Latino.

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