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The sweet (and spicy) spot: Bob and Gail Emmons expand their line of B&G Sweet Heat Peppers products in Mead

By Julia Ditto For The Spokesman-Review

If you’re a cook with even just a little bit of imagination, all you need are three ingredients to take your culinary game to the next level: B&G Sweet Heat Candied Jalapeños, Sweet Heat Marinade and Sweet Heat Pepper Dip. That’s according to Bob Emmons, the “B” in locally made B&G Sweet Heat Peppers. The “G” belongs to his wife, Gail.

A little sweet and a little spicy themselves, the Emmonses have created a thriving business out of making and selling their popular candied jalapeño products. They’ve become so popular, in fact, that the business has expanded beyond its origins at craft fairs and farmers markets.

The couple’s products can now also be found in grocery stores across Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Western Montana, including Yoke’s Fresh Market, WinCo, Egger’s and Sonnenberg’s Market & Deli, to name a few. Their peppers can also be purchased online at bgsweetheat.com. It’s a future they couldn’t have predicted for themselves, but one they are passionate about nonetheless.

Back in 2011, Bob was a branch manager at a US Bank in Ritzville with a spicy little secret: He was in love with candied jalapeño peppers, aka cowboy candy. For years, he ordered them from Texas until one day a friend e-mailed him a recipe for candied jalapeños.

Bob, a self-taught cook, started trying his hand at creating his own. After tweaking the recipe to get just the right blend of sweet and hot, he eventually started serving his jalapeños to family and friends. It was around this time that he and Gail, who was also a branch manager at a US Bank, got together.

Right off the bat, Bob introduced her to candied jalapeño peppers. She remembers in the early days of their relationship when they would be snacking on crackers, cream cheese and … candied jalapeños.

“I’m not a super heat person,” she admits. “I would take the cracker with the biggest knife swipe of cream cheese, and I would dig in the jar for the littlest pepper that I could possibly find.” Bob would do the opposite. “But I obviously knew they were good, and I knew that people would like them,” Gail adds.

They got to see firsthand just how much people would like them when their son needed to earn money for a school trip to Washington, D.C., in 2012. Gail suggested that they sell bottles of their candied jalapeños to family and friends, and it was a smashing success. Two years later, they decided to try selling their peppers at a craft fair.

“It was our ‘let’s throw the hook in the water and see what happens,” Bob says. “‘If we do get a fish, maybe we’ll continue, and if we don’t, it’s done.’ ” They got a fish – a big one: They sold more than $800 worth of peppers in two days. Bob became a certified food processor through an online program through UC Davis in 2015, and things started to really heat up.

More craft fairs followed. Then farmers markets. And then Sonnenberg’s agreed to carry their products. Production and distribution started ramping up, and in the middle of it all, Bob and Gail tied the knot in 2017, scheduling their wedding around the upcoming farmers markets schedule.

Once a part-time side hustle, B&G Sweet Heat Peppers now employs Gail and Bob full time, with Bob serving as the main cook and Gail helping in the kitchen and handling marketing and distribution.

In February, they completed work on a 2,000-square-foot commercial kitchen and warehouse in Mead and are looking forward to the increased production and freedom that it will provide. Previously, they had been renting a shared commercial kitchen and were able to work only on weekends.

One thing that won’t change with their new and improved larger work space is the small-batch process they use to make and bottle each jar of peppers. Gail proudly points to a large shelf against one wall.

“We’ve done all of this with those two pots on that shelf over there,” she says. “Small batch-process means it takes us longer to get a significant amount of product, but it also means that we’re way more hands on with our product than anything else.”

In the beginning, they would get their peppers from the produce section of local grocery stores, sometimes clearing out the store’s entire inventory in one day. “Now when we order, we order in boxes, and they come 38 pounds to a box,” Gail says. “We’re really proud of the fact that we use all-natural ingredients. We don’t even put any preservatives in with our peppers.”

People can taste the difference, and the B&G products have developed a devoted following. The Emmonses hear from customers regularly, whether it’s the snowbirds in Arizona who ordered two cases of candied jalapeños to go with them for the winter or the family who uses the peppers as an appetizer at every holiday.

“I love the fact that we’ve become tradition in people’s households,” says Gail, her voice catching as she continues. “That to me … that makes me tear up.”

One of the biggest disappointments the pandemic has dished out to the Emmonses is the fact they can’t welcome people into their newly completed commercial kitchen for food demonstrations and sampling parties.

Sampling is a big part of their products’ success since people are sometimes wary of buying anything they think might be too spicy. The peppers have got a good, medium heat to them, Gail says. “It makes your mouth just hot enough that you want to eat another one.”

“That’s what we do. We feed people,” Gail says. “We’d love to have a grand opening and love to feature food and do all of that, and it’s going to have to wait till we can do it safely.” “We’ll get there,” Bob adds.

Even amid the pandemic, they started rolling out their creamy Sweet Heat Pepper Dip to stores in December, and it’s quickly becoming a favorite for everything from dipping chips to serving as a base for enchiladas. The B&G website bgsweetheat.com includes a few sure-fire recipes that use the peppers, marinade and dip, with Bob sometimes giving video tutorials.

Gail’s favorite way to enjoy their peppers is with shrimp that’s been marinated in the Sweet Heat Marinade and then grilled on the barbecue. Bob’s favorite is a toss-up between the tried-and-true cracker with cream cheese or a turkey sandwich topped with a layer of peppers.

“It makes the sandwich,” Bob says. “I make the sandwich,” Gail corrects. A little sweet and a little heat. In relationships, business and food – at least where Gail and Bob Emmons are concerned – it just works.

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