The sauce is hot, while the cause is sweet


“Stick your finger in this,” my older brother instructed me last week in that bossy voice big brothers have no matter how old we’ve grown.

Of course, any younger sister, no matter how old, should know to be cautious. Following such instructions as a kid led to everything from ruining our little sister’s first birthday cake to a mild electrical shock.

This time, I’m relieved to say, my brother was steering me toward something wonderful.

See, I love all things spicy. Red pepper flakes are my best friend. My brother simply wanted me to taste the sweetest, smokiest hot sauce I’ve ever come across.

Turns out, the story behind it is even better.

“I had to do something with all those peppers,” Lee Taylor told me over the phone last week from California. “So, I started experimenting and came up with a hot sauce recipe that my friends and family went crazy for.”

Lee is a recently retired firefighter with 31 years of service under his belt. He also has a green thumb and a heart of gold that loves to give back.

His green thumb produced an overabundance of jalapeno and bell peppers in the vegetable garden he planted behind the firehouse in Palo Alto.

“I started experimenting in the firehouse kitchen,” he told me. “And came up with a pretty tasty hot sauce. I gave it away as Christmas presents to family friends. Honestly, that’s all I ever thought would come of it.”

While his friends begged him to make more, Lee instead focused his free time on organizing charity bike rides. His big, giving heart was happy. His wife was not. The third time Lee was hit by a car during training for the bike rides was the final straw for his wife, Karen.

“She said to me, ‘You’re doing a lot of good, but you have a family. Let’s not have you die on the bike.’ ”

His firehouse buddies agreed. “They staged an intervention of sorts,” Lee told me. “They said, ‘It’s time to get off the bike and get on the sauce.’ ”

“Wow,” I replied. “Probably the only intervention in history where guys tell their buddy he needs to get on the sauce instead of off.”

“Yeah,” Lee laughed. “They were trying to hit me over the head that I could sell my sauce and share the profits.”

That’s how Palo Alto Firefighters Pepper Sauce was born and took off, you’ll excuse the pun, faster than a wildfire.

“Within a week,” Lee told me, “the test batches all sold out.”

The sauce ignites your taste buds. What Lee does with the proceeds will warm your heart. He gives away every penny of the profits.

“My goal was to raise enough money to give away one college scholarship. Helping kids get an education is not that different from my garden. It’s all about planting seeds.”

Lee clearly has a knack for growing things. “We’ve shipped to all 50 states and now have distribution deals with two national grocery chains,” Lee said. It’s enough for Palo Alto Fire Fighters Pepper Sauce to have given away 81 college scholarships so far.

Lee doesn’t think he’s that special. Just a guy who is grateful and wanted to give back.

Sound like you? If so, Lee has a seed to plant with you.

“Just do a single action,” he says. “Take a step forward and when you get one step forward, your view will change. You’ll see something that you couldn’t see before. I had no idea all the folks who would come forward to help me make a difference. Not until I took a step forward.”

A single step.

Now that’s one hot idea.


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