BACK in his native Sheffield, club promoter Mark Deakin would often head to his favourite kebab shop at the end of a long evening’s work.
There he would liberally douse his take away with the eatery’s own homemade spicy chilli sauce.
Roll on a few years and having met – and later married – wife Shelley, Mark moved north up the M1 to join her on Tyneside.
Shelley also worked on the club circuit, and managed some of Newcastle’s most famous night spots, including Foundation. It was here that Mark successfully ran the Promise nights for five years from 2000, bringing some of the world’s best known DJs to the region, including Sasha and Paul van Dyk.
“Shelley ran the club and I ran the nights. It was a perfect set-up,” Mark says simply.
The couple settled down and became the proud parents of two sons, George, now nine, and William, six. In 2008 they finally tied the knot at the luxurious Jesmond Dene House in Newcastle.
All was perfect – except for one thing. Still fond of his after-hours kebab, Mark was unimpressed with the range of sauces available on Tyneside.
One night over a bottle of wine he began lamenting the loss of this culinary gem from his diet. The next day the 43-year-old tried to replicate it in his domestic kitchen – and so was born a blistering (in more ways than one) new food business.
The Hot Stuff Chilli Company only exploded on to the region’s local food scene in March last year . But already it has hit a nerve with the public. Demand for the fledgling firm’s range of dried spices, sauces, rubs, marinades and jams is such that it is not unusual to find the couple working into the small, wee hours in the kitchen of their home in New Hartley, Northumberland, preparing, making and bottling their fiery concoctions.
The couple well remember one weekend in the summer of last year when they had sold out at a food festival on the Saturday, and although exhausted had to come home and replenish their stocks for their regular Sunday pitch at Newcastle’s famous Quayside market.
They ended up burning the candle at both ends as their sons slept upstairs.
But if the Deakins ever question their sanity, the public soon refocus them. “We will be at a show and I might check my emails if we have a lull, and one will have dropped from someone who had only bought one of our products an hour before, saying they’ve got home, already tried it and love it,” Mark explains.
“It is moments like that that make all the hard work and late nights worth it. It is great to be making something the public enjoy – and enjoy enough to want to come back for more.”
The Hot Stuff Chilli Company has struck a chord with foodies not just in the North East but Cumbria, Yorkshire and even as far away as Scotland where they attended the Royal Highland Show.
For those looking for some flavour and excitement with their food, the Hot Stuff Chilli Company certainly does what it says on the packet.
But there is more to Mark and Shelley’s venture than just a side helping of jam and ketchup. The Hot Stuff Chilli Company also serves up a generous dollop of humour too.
Slightly Naughty Ketchup sits alongside its exceptionally bad sister, Extremely Naughty Ketchup (which is so wicked the only way to quell its intensity is to have a glass of water to hand). Then there is Hot Scotch Sauce, Kick Ass, Sneaky Caribbean Cheat Chilli and Sneaki Thai Cheat Chilli, to name but a few.
Some of the labels are even more amazing, featuring the silhouette of a curvaceous young woman outlined in fiery red with tumbling hair and a pair of devil’s horns – which bears a striking similarity to the title sequence of that much loved golden oldie, Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected.
The girl is actually Shelley. Looking slightly embarrassed the 40-year-old says: “It has been taken from a photo of me from about 20 years ago. And no, I don’t know where the photo is now. Hidden away I hope.”
Mark and Shelley have deliberately played up the pleasurable side of their business. “We felt a lot of chilli stuff was quite serious,” Mark says. “But we wanted to come at it from a different angle. I suppose what we are saying is that to love food you don’t have to be serious. You can still enjoy it and have fun.”