In the old cafeteria of a decommissioned middle school in rural Pueblo, Colorado, right in the heart of chili pepper-growing country, Jojo Collins is making fiery, small-batch, wild fermented chili sauce. Just three kinds: red, green and unicorn (of course!).
With only 5 ingredients, and none of the salt, sugar or preservatives found in other srirachas, Jojo captures the flavor and depth of the chilies of the West.
A Conversation With...
When did you come up with the idea for Jojo’s Sriracha?
In 2010, I signed up for a yoga teacher training in Colorado. The very first step was an Ayurvedic cleanse, which included cutting out sugar. One month before, I had taken refined sugar out of my diet as a path to a healthier lifestyle. I learned that nearly all processed foods, but especially condiments, were full of sugar, even the beloved squeeze-bottle sriracha that I used on the daily. Not only was it full of sugar but also salt and preservatives. Yuck!
Thinking I wouldn’t survive much longer without my favorite red sauce, I decided to make my own. It took me two more years before I officially incorporated my business in 2012. In short, I needed some time to develop my inner hipster.
Where do you create the sriracha?
It has been a long road to develop the supply chain and relationships with our current group of farmers. When we started the business in the northeast, where growing conditions aren’t optimal for chili peppers, we had to source chilies from around the country and even around the world.
Eventually we moved to Colorado. Now we produce our sriracha in the old cafeteria of a decommissioned middle school in rural Pueblo, just miles from our farmers and right in the heart of chili pepper growing in the country. We produce in season, so that all our chili peppers come directly from Pueblo. We also use raw, organic, apple cider vinegar from Big B's Orchard in Paonia, Colorado.
The fresh chilies are chopped through a food processor and mixed with freshly ground garlic, sea salt and a small amount of organic coconut palm sugar. This mash ferments for weeks to months at room temperature. After fermentation, we blend the mash with vinegar and then jar.
What was it like to make your first batch of sriracha?
I remember making my first batches of sriracha in my apartment kitchen in Denver while I was taking my yoga teacher training. I had never made hot sauce or fermented anything before so I really didn't know what I was doing. I'd fill little jam jars with sriracha and bring them to share with the group. I marked the jars with a little heart and signed them Jojo in sharpie —that's how everyone got to know my sauce as "Jojo's Sriracha".
Did you ever consider giving up?
All. The. Time. My partner Rachel and I have a little inside joke where we talk about how it’s hard to tell the difference between tenacity and banging your head against the wall! In those dark moments, I have to trust my intuition.
What was your first entrepreneurial endeavor?
I used to frequent a pizzeria called Lala's in Denver. I'd always sit at the bar, eat pizza and drink Peroni on tap. One day I saw a moped zip by with a big box attached to the back that said "Lala's"; it was a moped pizza delivery! The next time I went to Lala's, I told them I loved Lala's and I LOVED anything with a throttle and that I wanted to drive the moped and deliver pizza for them. They said they didn't have a position available, but I convinced them to let me be their designated moped pizza delivery person. It was the first time I "created" a job. It was a lesson in creativity and tenacity.
Who is your inspiration?
My mom, Joni, is my inspiration. I lost her to ALS when I was fifteen. She was sick for five years and I was one of her primary caregivers. She taught me what it means to love hard and be a good listener. I think about her every day and still find ways to connect with her —like when I poured my first three batches of Jojo's Sriracha on her birthday.
What is your WHY?
My WHY changes over time. My WHY in 2012 was to make a sriracha that wasn't full of sugar and other crap. My WHY in 2020 is to support myself financially. The only thing that remains constant is being on this strange journey that I love. The tough times force me to get to know myself and the fun times are, well, fun! I guess my WHY is to experience it all.