Hot right now

By Rachel Helyer Donaldson

Featured in Capital #73
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Apostle Hot Sauce co-creator Lydia Harfield tells Rachel Helyer Donaldson how the right blend of flavour and striking design has performed miracles for the fledgling Paekākāriki brand.

W

hen it comes to hot sauce it’s not always about going for the burn. For the makers of Apostle Hot Sauce, a distinctive range of small-batch sauces handmade in Paekākāriki, it’s about complementing a dish rather than overwhelming it with spice.

“We like a bit of spice but we were focused on getting a really beautiful flavour,” says Apostle’s Lydia Harfield. “We’ve found that really successful because we’ve got a wider market than what you would with a really, really hot sauce. All sorts of people love our sauce.”

Apostle Hot Sauce was officially launched last December, starting as a cult condiment stocked in only a few places. It is now hot property. There were a couple of “quite scary” months during lockdown, particularly as the other creator Mat Watkins had just quit his job to focus on Apostle. “Then things picked up again, drastically,” says Lydia. “It was definitely the right decision.”

Sales are now triple those at the start of the year. Apostle is stocked by around 60 retailers: nationwide from Dargaville to Dunedin, three stores overseas in Melbourne, Sydney and Hong Kong, and Farro Fresh in Auckland, Moore Wilson’s in Wellington, and Commonsense Organics’ five North Island stores.

Mat first started experimenting with sauce recipes a few years ago while flatting in Kelburn. Their neighbours, who were retailers, promised to stock it once Apostle set up. “We were really lucky to get a foot in the door.”

There are four sauces so far, all invented by Mat, who has a background in food production. Roasted capsicum and chilli (Saint Phillip) sells the most, says Lydia – “it’s the classic”; but the others – chocolate and manuka chipotle (Saint Matthew), kiwifruit and kawakawa verde (Saint Peter), and mango, turmeric and ginger (Saint John) – are not far behind.

Lydia has a degree in graphic design, so the couple’s skills were “very compatible” for starting up a food brand together. In 2018 they swapped their “mouldy, dark” flat in Kelburn for a beach house in Paekākāriki and began selling the sauce at the local monthly market, where it gained a loyal following.

The seaside community, full of entrepreneurs and creatives, is extremely supportive of people “giving it a go”, says Lydia. “It’s inspiring.”

It took a while to set up properly. New Zealand’s crowded food market meant the right look was crucial. “Having a label that is different is important, just to get people to try it.”

It’s a decision which has paid off. Apostle’s branding – which comes from the couple’s love of Christian iconography and tarot cards, with drawings by Union Tattoo artist Juju – is Instagram-catnip. Apostle gets most of its wholesale customers this way, says Lydia. “Shops contact us and say your product looks great, can we stock it?”

Lydia works full-time at Studio Pacific Architecture. The couple spend their Saturdays producing the sauces out of Paekākāriki Pops’s commercial kitchen. It takes them seven or eight hours to make about 500 to 600 bottles.

Two new sauces, Saint Andrew and Judas, are on their way. Apostle Hot Sauce will also add a pungent kick to several Wellington on a Plate menus.

Longer term, the couple would like to keep Apostle handmade and to both work on it full time. “We really love food, the actual making of the sauce, doing it together on a Saturday. It’s a balance between growing enough so you can have a sustainable business but not going so far that you lose control of your product.”

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