As a young boy at summer camp in Haliburton, Ontario, Neil Garfinkel formed friendships with several boys from Mexico – and also a habit for putting hot sauce on virtually everything, as he had seen them do.
“That’s what got me started,” said Garfinkel, owner of Sgt. Peppers Hot Sauces, Etc., (Sgtpeppershotsaucesetc.com) who named the Lewiston specialty foods emporium after the first album he ever bought – the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
To this day, he sprinkles the elixir on anything imaginable, even adding pineapple or blueberry hot sauce to his yogurt, a trend that has caught on with customers.
A mix of first-timers and locals come in every week for staples like cheese, Adirondack bacon, salad dressing and olive oil, growing the store’s clientele with business doubling every year, according to Garfinkel.
Selling predominantly hot sauce when he opened nearly three years ago, the “etc.” side of the business now constitutes roughly 50 percent of his product line, and includes everything from anchovies and tuna from Spain to tart cherry juice from Singer Farm Naturals in Appleton, N.Y.
“We do a lot with any local products we can get,” said Garfinkel, who also sells local raw honey in addition to hot sauces like Burning Asphalt made in Forestville, Bo’s Honey Brown out of Buffalo, and Rochester’s Tongue Puncher.
For the daredevil, Sgt. Peppers’ most fiery offering is Carolina Reaper Mash. The Carolina Reaper pepper is ranked the world’s hottest by Guinness Records. Garfinkel said a number of eateries buy the puree from him on a monthly basis, adding, “It’s so strong that a small jar is all they need for a big restaurant.”
Still offering a little kick without the wallop, Garfinkel touts the popular Habanero-infused hot honey, which he highly recommends on carrots, or when baking salmon, chicken or pork. Also not to be missed: his large inventory of vinegars, mustards and olives.
While carrying some processed cheeses from the get-go that could be left on the shelf, Garfinkel later invested in two refrigerators, which are now stocked with over 25 types of cheese. Around a dozen options alone are from Clayton, N.Y.-based 1000 Islands River Rat Cheese.
Ironically, it was during a visit to the Thousand Islands while in his early twenties that Garfinkel first got the idea to open his shop.
“I was in this tiny little place that carried nothing but hot sauce, and it was hopping with people,” said Garfinkel, who told himself he should bring the concept to his hometown of Lewiston.
More than 20 years later, he finally did. And it has been the perfect fit for the foodie haven. Said Garfinkel, “This is definitely a culinary town.”