Berkeley chef Marla Simon sells hot sauce online amid pandemic

Scarlet Fire Hot Sauce
Marla Simon's Scarlet Fire hot sauce is a blend of habaneros, Fresno peppers and Thai chiles. Though her recipe has evolved over the years, the pepper blend has gone largely unchanged.

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When the COVID-19 pandemic caused her to scale back her business, local chef and entrepreneur Marla Simon found a niche online selling Scarlet Fire, a “unique, musically inspired” hot sauce of her own creation, as first reported by Berkeleyside.

As a result of the pandemic, Fresh Beets Kitchen, Simon’s personal chef business that specializes in custom meal plans accommodating restrictive diets, has stopped offering in-home cooking services. With much of her primary business on hold, Simon has increased her focus on making Scarlet Fire and selling it online.

Simon had already been making Scarlet Fire for years, but until recently only for friends and family, according to her website. After a couple of public debuts and a successful 2019 Kickstarter campaign, she had Scarlet Fire ready to launch in 2020 and had planned to sell it in local stores.

“I completed my first commercial batch of sauce in February, shipped rewards to Kickstarter backers, and then the pandemic happened,” Simon said in an email. “I put my plan to target local grocery stores on hold and started selling online.”

As an avid music lover, Simon found inspiration for the name “Scarlet Fire” in a pair of Grateful Dead songs, “Scarlet Begonias” and “Fire on the Mountain,” which are usually played one after the other, she added.

The sauce is a blend of habaneros, Fresno peppers and Thai chiles, which Simon believes is a unique combination. Though her recipe has evolved over the years, the pepper blend has gone largely unchanged, Simon wrote in the email.

So far, Scarlet Fire has had success online, with orders shipping out to customers all over the country. Local orders spiked after Berkeleyside wrote about the product, according to Simon.

Even with the boost in sales and low operating costs of both her businesses, Simon runs Scarlet Fire by herself and worries she may need to look for another job before life starts to return to normal, she added.

“Being self employed is stressful during normal times,” Simon said in the email. “Adding the element of the pandemic into the mix makes it ten times worse. In the beginning there was a lot of false hope, thinking we’re only going to be dealing with this for a few weeks, and then months, and now I’ve basically given in to the fact that we really have no idea what the future holds.”

Despite the uncertainty, Simon added that she looks forward to the day she can resume plans to get Scarlet Fire on the shelves of local retailers and operate Fresh Beets Kitchen without the worry of COVID-19.

Contact Jacob Souza at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @jsouza_dailycal.