Food & Drink

H3irloom’s David and Tonya Thomas Create a Line of Hot Sauces

The bottled trio is hot stuff in more ways than one, earning praise from the likes of 'Garden & Gun' and 'Martha Stewart Living.'
—Photography by Justin Tsucalas

Through the years, David and Tonya Thomas have made their mark, from owning the first fine-dining modern soul food restaurant in Baltimore to founding their food business, H3irloom Food Group. Now, the couple has launched a trio of hot sauces.

“Hot sauce is a very African thing,” says David, whose great-grandmother was enslaved. “We like spice, we like heat, and because of the vinegar and peppers, it’s a way to preserve things. When we decided to design a line of products we said, ‘We have to start with hot sauce.’”

The sauces, available online, as well as at Eddie’s, Bird in Hand, and The Wine Source, ship nationwide, and come in three flavors.

“I like sauces that create flavor, not just heat,” says David. Sweat is an American take on an African vinegar-style pepper sauce with preserved heirloom tomatoes. Smok’d, aromatic and earthy, is one of the first black-hued hot sauces on the market. The color is derived from the vegetable ash of the West African Mbongo tree and is spiced with alligator pepper, which is also indigenous to that area.

Sosu, which means “hot” in some African dialects, is a West African “peppa” sauce whose inspiration is drawn from the couple’s culinary travels to West Africa in 2020.

“We tasted a number of pepper sauces while we were there,” says David. “We were able to go to this woman’s home, we called her Auntie Bouimi, and she prepared a pepper sauce. This is an homage to that.”

The sauce is hot stuff in more ways than one: Sosu was a runner-up at Garden & Gun’s 2021 Made in the South Awards and got a recent shout out in Martha Stewart Living.

“It’s just about always trying to represent ourselves in the best light,” sums up David.