With a picture of Nobbys on the label and Hunter Valley produce on the inside, new sauce company The Newcastle Chilli Bros is staking out a claim to local identity.
Matt Lethbridge says he and mate Adrian Drummond "were drawn together" when they met as eight-year-olds at Plattsburg Primary School in Wallsend back in 1985.
"We can never really remember each other not being around," Lethbridge says.
As they grew up, foodie talk replaced playground antics.
Drummond was into making his own chilli powders, and Lethbridge was seeking out spicy dishes around the world.
"Adrian loves cooking and anything chilli," Lethbridge says. "He's brilliant in the kitchen."
"I've done a fair bit of travelling throughout Asia and love hot sauces. I'm an absolute sucker for a Singapore chilli crab or a traditional green Thai curry."
While working life initially took them on different journeys - Lethbridge into underground mining and Drummond into kitchens and then trucking yards - they stayed in contact through Facebook posts.
"The conversations were always based around everything and anything chilli," Lethbridge says.
Starting their own chilli sauce brand was on the agenda from the early days, as the pair shared their experiences with sauces that had "ridiculous names" and were "that hot you couldn't possibly enjoy them".
So, Lethbridge says, when they set to doing it their own way they wanted to "create a family friendly brand that accommodated everyone's palate and taste".
"It's been a dream of both of ours since our 20s."
One day in May of this year, "Adrian said to me 'let's go buy some glass bottles'," Lethbridge recounts. Each pitched in $50 as a start-up fund.
Drummond, who had trained to be a chef, had the know-how and the requisite inventiveness of a saucier.
His TAFE teacher, years ago, was an English chef who provided an eye-opening approach to eating.
"We were cooking oddball stuff like lamb brains with raspberry sauce," Drummond says. "A bunch of teenagers at TAFE, you can imagine the amount of screwed up faces."
Drummond says those dishes taught him to be a more adventurous eater "and explore more". Learning he's applying to his chilli sauce creations.
The Newcastle Chilli Sauce Bros launched with three sauces: a mild variety using bird's eye, jalapeno and cayenne chillis, a hot sauce from habaneros, and an extra hot level made with Carolina Reaper chillis.
Now they've added Chilli BBQ, Chilli Ketchup, Sweet Chilli and Sriracha. Chilli Chocolate and Chilli Satay are about to be released, and more sauces are on the horizon.
"I've still got plenty of ideas in my head," Drummond says.
His family and work mates lined up to be "guinea pigs" as Drummond honed his recipes.
"They were like 'mate, why aren't you selling this stuff, I'd buy that'," Drummond says.
At first the batches were small runs, starting with 20 bottles, then they filled 80. They advertised on Facebook and Drummond says that to begin with their success was due to "a bunch of supportive friends getting behind us".
But soon orders started coming from people they didn't know.
"That's awesome," Drummond thought, "they were coming, chasing us ... well maybe we should make something of this."
The pair were further buoyed when Mark Chegwidden, co-owner of the Crown & Anchor hotel in Newcastle, ordered sauces for the pub's Taco Tuesday night.
"He's a big fan of getting behind local people, so we're forever in his debt," Lethbridge says.
Online sales have outgrown Facebook, moving to a website featuring the sauces displayed in front of a graffiti-style mural painted by artist James Cutrupi.
Keeping the Newcastle flavour in every aspect of their business started with the pair's commitment to "doing our bit for local farmers" by sourcing Hunter Valley-grown chillis, Lethbridge says.
While Drummond keeps up the cooking, Lethbridge has started getting their sauces on the shelves of butcheries who, he says, appreciate the locally produced ethos. Plus, "meat and sauce go hand in hand," he says.
The response, Lethbridge says, has been "beautiful".
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