James Bishop was running one day in Washington Park. After jogging a quarter mile around the park, he became extremely hot. A light bulb went off, and that’s when he came up with the name Quarter Mile Sauce Runnin’… “Hot” for the uniquely flavored hot sauce that his family has become known for.
Bishop loves habanero peppers and for years had been mixing and matching his own ingredients, creating his own sauces. In 2013, he threw yet another recipe together, letting it sit in a jug for one year. As family and friends tried out this new sauce, it officially became the winner.
Since this sauce became such a hit among family and friends, Bishop and his wife, Dorcas, decided to start selling the recipe, and incorporated their own company in 2014. They soon realized some of the challenges facing a small family-owned business. Looking into companies that could professionally pack their product, they realized they would lose much of their creative control in deseeding, cooking, growing, and packaging. But the retired couple had a lot of free time to invest in their hot sauce from start to finish. So the family decided to do everything themselves.
“We grow our peppers. We don’t use chemical fertilizers. We use all natural composts, animal composts. We even use natural pesticide methods,” said Dorcas.
The Bishop family, who live in Washington Heights, purchased land in Pembroke, some forty miles south of city limits in Kankakee County, to grow and harvest their habanero peppers. They chose this area because Pembroke is one of the many protected areas in the U.S., managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The rich soil, a mix of sand and black dirt, is perfect for growing hot peppers. The sauce gets is special flavor through fermentation: vinegar and salt are added to the peppers, and then the sauce sits for an entire year until it’s ready to be packaged and distributed.
Doing everything themselves has also meant dealing with the bureaucracy of getting their small business registered.
“By being a small company and having to do all the work ourselves, it’s a lot of paperwork and forms. You have to monitor the work while it’s fermenting. It’s kind of tedious,” Dorcas said.
Despite the hard work, the family of five have come together to run a successful business. Dorcas is the president and treasurer, and she oversees day-to-day functions, including selling their product at farmers markets along with her granddaughter Kimani. James is the farmer and director of operations. He works with the farming equipment and does everything from planting to picking the habanero peppers. Kimberly Bishop-Pitts, the older daughter (and Kimani’s mother), is the advertiser and manages the business’ website and social media accounts. Kendra Bishop, the younger daughter, is a “supporting” secretary—and the go-to person for advice and convening family meetings.
There are three flavors—mild, medium, and hot—that range in price from four to ten dollars. I had an opportunity along with other shoppers to try the sauce at the Plant Chicago Farmers Market in Back of the Yards.
We started with the mild sauce. We all agreed that we could taste the cayenne pepper, which complemented the pleasant, fruity flavor.
“I think it’s really fruity.,” said one of the customers standing around Bishop’s table. “It’s very flavorful. A lot of hot sauces miss out on the flavor..”
Next up was the medium hot flavor, which had a kick to it, but wasn’t overbearingly hot.
“It kind of numbs my tongue like the toothache plant,” another commented.
Toothache plants (acmella oleracea) leave a tingling and numbing sensation after the first bite, but the initial flavor lingersjust like the medium hot flavor of this hot sauce.
Finally, we tried the hot flavor. This was the most intimidating for me, as I am not a hot or spicy food lover, but surprisingly this flavor was great too. The hot taste is subtle, and the flavor is never lost.
After trying all three flavors, I purchased a bottle of the medium hot sauce. It’s been a week and I’m halfway through the bottle. If other buyers are devouring this hot sauce as quickly as I am, then the future looks bright for this small family-owned business.
Recently, Dorcas attended a workshop hosted by the Englewood Community Service Center that supports small business owners. Whole Foods representatives attended and they told her they loved her hot sauce. Mariano’s is interested in her product as well.
“The future is to have my own company to process it and maybe my own shop to sell it. I love farmers markets, but I also want to market my product to be in the retail stores,” said Dorcas.
Dorcas would also love to work with chefs at various restaurants across Chicago, which she thinks would be a great outlet for her business.
“I don’t see myself as being a big conglomerate or selling out. I’d rather do my own product. I want to keep the originality of my product,” said Dorcas. “I still want to be a small company that produces an original product.”
You can find Dorcas and Kimani at Plant Chicago Farmers Market the first Saturday of each month. Beginning June 3, every Sunday, they’ll be at the McKinley Park Farmers Market. During the winter months, you can catch them on the second Saturday of each month at the 61st Street Farmers Market. Find them online at quartermilesells.com.
Maple Joy is a contributor to the Weekly. She is from Cleveland but has lived in the Chicago area for almost five years. She is obsessed with Chicago food. In her spare time, you can find her biking on one of the Chicago trails or hanging out at a Chicago event or festival. She also wrote about Evelyn Food Love’s one-year anniversary in the 2018 Food Issue.