Old St. Augustine Gourmet – Fresh and local makes it taste better

“I have been a registered nurse for over 25 years,” Angela said with an undeniable sense of duty and purpose tethering her rhythm as she spoke. “The big focus of my nursing career has been on healthy lifestyle choices. I know that natural whole foods produce a degree of health that brings peace of mind and enjoyment of life that you don’t get by sitting on the couch eating potato chips, for example.” As a former administrator of two assisted living facilities in the State of Florida, and the administrator for several Home Health Agencies over the years, Angela’s business acumen is bolstered by her bedside manner. “I am a nurturer; that’s why I went to nursing school in the beginning. I want people to feel good about themselves and the choices they make in life. Food is an integral part of any healing process and our products are designed to promote that healthy lifestyle.”

“Choosing nutritional foods really helps improve your immune system and your overall good health,” Angela continued. “Foods like peppers, and datil peppers in particular, actually can provide health benefits. They contain capsaicin, which is the active ingredient in peppers, which is a proven pain reliever. There are a lot of creams and rubs, medications, over the counter things that contain capsaicin for things like arthritis, for example. It has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, decrease inflammation or swelling in joints; it boosts your metabolism; it can help reduce the risk of things like heart attack and stroke; and peppers are high in antioxidants and vitamin C. They also stimulate endorphins and dopamine, which are sort of the happy hormones.”

If you’re a fan of hot and spicy, datil peppers have another way of making you happy: they range from 100,000 to 300,000 SHUs (Scoville Heat Units) on the Scoville scale, which is as hot as or hotter than a habañero pepper. That’s not to say that each and every Old St. Augustine Gourmet product is going to have you reaching for the nearest cold drink. The Datil Zest Spice Blend, a mix of spicy datil peppers, natural lemon, orange and lime combined with onion, garlic, smoked paprika, salt and black peppers has a heat level of two out of ten, Angela said. Snake Bite Datil Pepper Hot Sauce, Angela’s number one selling product, comes in at five out of ten on Old St. Augustine Gourmet’s informal heat level gauge while Angela doesn’t even feel the need to rate her Jalapeño Honey Mustard: “It’s not too spicy and it’s not too sweet.”

“I love spicy food and I love to experiment with flavor combinations and food – that’s how this business got started. Every Old St. Augustine Gourmet product started as an at-home kitchen creation. We used to travel from Tennessee to Florida every year on vacation – we lived in the Nashville area – and we became enamored with datil pepper products. (The datil pepper actually thrives naturally in St. Augustine like nowhere else in the world.) So I started taking peppers home and experimenting. The first product I created was actually a spicy salsa with datil peppers – I even bottled it myself. Before long my kids were hauling it out the back door and giving it away to their friends and taking it back to college and that kind of thing. One of them finally looked at me and said, ‘Mom, why aren’t you selling this stuff? You could make money.’ Up until then, it had never even occurred to me that this could be a business. I was so focused on being a nurse and being an administrative nurse I just didn’t even think about it; it was just something I did for fun. So Old St. Augustine Gourmet actually started in our home kitchen and it just grew from there. The next thing we knew we were in business, literally.”

For Angela, a self-professed lifelong learner, there is nothing more important than the “we” side of the Old St. Augustine Gourmet equation. “I am constantly learning and growing – it’s who I’ve always been – and I am appreciative of all the help I have received from my family,” she said. “On the entrepreneurship side of things I first looked to my husband – and I still rely on him a lot. He has over 40 years’ experience in wholesale and retail as a manufacturer. And two of my sons and one of my nephews are also in this with me. They’ve used their education in graphic design, business, and entrepreneurship to help market our brand – so I’ve got a lot of support and I’m learning something new every day.”

Also, in Angela’s corner is the Women’s Business Enterprise Council of Florida, a community of mentors, advisers, strategic alliances, champions, and supporters of women in business. Old St. Augustine Gourmet is WBENC-certified. “It really allows me to join forces with other women and business owners and leaders all over the United States,” she explained. “It has really helped to expand our visibility and has opened doors to some corporate suppliers that I probably would not have had access to before. It really is an amazing group of women. I’m currently working with them on a few different opportunities like potentially exporting my first products, which will probably be to Canada. The mentorship there is so great and I can’t wait to turn that around and help mentor someone else.”

One of the government entities in the Sunshine State that works closely with many WBNEC-certified businesses is the Florida Department of Agriculture.

“We are working with the State of Florida at the moment with the ‘Fresh from Florida’ program, which is through the Florida Department of Agriculture,” Angela explained. “They are helping to train and give grants to small farmers and people who want to learn how to farm and grow things like datil peppers, for example. Knowing they have someone who has already said ‘You grow them, I’m going to buy them from you so I can use them in my product’ is important. We’re actually helping local economies and the county that the agricultural department is focusing its efforts on is one of the poorest counties in the State of Florida. It’s a win-win situation for them and for us.”

It’s also a win-win for Old St. Augustine Gourmet customers. Working closely with small operation local farmers fits Angela’s business model: small batches equals unrivaled quality control which means award-winning flavour.

The Old St. Augustine Gourmet small farm-to-bottle business model wasn’t exactly a paradigm shift for Angela.

“That’s how I plan my meals; that’s how I base my recipes: I go to the markets and I look for what’s fresh,” she said. “If it’s local and fresh then it’s going to be a real boon to your diet in terms of your health – and it’s going to taste better. And eating this way for most of my life has been a never-ending education for me, as well. I’m always learning about new flavor combinations because if I go to the local market and don’t see what I want I keep going; I just ditch whatever it was I had in mind to cook and say, ‘Okay, I can’t find that today, what else is out there, what else is available that I can use as my focal point?’ When I find something that looks good, that looks fresh, I’m immediately thinking about what I can throw it together with.”

Angela’s blog, which can be found at www.datilpepperlady.com is ripe with recipes from appetizers to salads to chicken and poultry – and desserts. But her April 30 post titled ‘Cinco de Mayo Datil Jerk Blackened Shrimp Tacos with Mango Salsa’ is the perfect exemplar of the Old St. Augustine Gourmet spirit: the care is in the detail. Not only is her writing style welcoming – like a good nurse’s bedside manner and a true Southerner – but the blog itself humbly contextualizes the American celebration of Independence Day in Mexico adding a welcomed level of Romance to the preparation of a contemporary taco bar.

If you’re visiting the Datil Pepper Lady’s blog and your mouth starts to water, go to www.osagourmet.com to order your Old St. Augustine Gourmet products today.

by David MacDonald