Ask a foodie what cities generate the latest trends, and they’ll usually list places like San Francisco, New Orleans, or New York. Odds are high that Greenwood and Ninety Six will not be mentioned. But that’s exactly where celebrated chef Geoff Rhyne is making his Red Clay Hot Sauce, which is searing in sales from Alaska to The Keys. “I first made the hot sauce as a pantry ingredient at The Ordinary in Charleston,” the former chef de cuisine recalls. “Diners started stealing it off the tables. I tweaked some flavors for market, and that became Red Clay’s original sauce.”
After working at high-profile restaurants in Charleston and Chicago, Rhyne relocated to Greenwood five years ago, seeking to spend more time with his family and slow down. Instead, he fast-tracked a hot sauce business, creating enough heat to hit $1 million in 2020. “It’s bonkers,” he reveals with a hearty laugh. “I’m very much a blue-collar person. I am a person of hard work. Put your head down, work hard, do right by people, and it comes back around.”
That hard work includes making each batch by hand. “I’m chopping peppers, straining, fermenting,” he says, listing the steps he takes to create his sauces, all done at a warehouse in Ninety Six. That’s a lot of chopping to fill the 20,000 bottles sold each month. And with The Fresh Market recently rolling out Red Clay products, an appearance on CBS This Morning, and on-going discussions with Publix, Geoff’s making arrangements with a mentor at the Culinary Institute of Charleston to have students step into the manufacturing process through externships.
In planning the future, the Atlanta native is relying on his past, which is filled with lessons and recipes collected down red clay roads. “Every summer, my mom would farm me out to my grandparents in south Georgia,” he reveals. “My grandfather would take me fishing and to area farms. He taught me sustainability.” In seeking sustainability, Geoff stumbled into his best-selling product yet: Barrel-Aged Hot Honey. “I had this beautiful Habanero mash left over from the Habanero Sauce,” he explains. “It had these citrusy and floral components, and I thought this would be delicious added to a honey.” He infuses the mash with sweet honey carefully sourced from Okefenokee Swamp.
“I’m a tinkerer,” he admits. “Chefs are pretty bull-headed, and think they can make something better. My whole intent is to make sure everything accentuates the food, rather than overpowers it. I respect the ingredients, and the people helping me do the job. With that, and a good work ethic, it’s the old-fashioned American dream. Right?”
To try a bottle of Red Clay Hot Sauce, visit The Fresh Market or Swamp Rabbit Café. For more information, visit redclayhotsauce.com
HOT STUFF //
Not too long after the release of Geoff’s original Red Clay Hot Sauce, customers asked for a hotter variety. Geoff knew the perfect pepper: the Carolina Reaper. “That’s the differentiator in our Carolina Hot Sauce,” he reveals. “The Reaper has a distinct point and tail. It’s so hot.”
How hot is it? Guinness World Records currently lists the Carolina Reaper as the world’s hottest chili pepper. One of these pointy peppers—bright-red, shriveled, and packing a powerful punch—hit 2.2 million Scoville heat units in measurements at Winthrop University.