Peppers, Spice & Everything Nice
Nikki Schroeder brings the heat to the MidSouth
Story by L. Taylor Smith | Photos by Casey Hilder
Food | March 2015
Nikki’s Hot A** Chips are aggressive, in-your-face and the packaging is plenty eye-catching, too. The gaping maw that graces every bag is that of the head honcho of the Hot A** line, Nikki Shroeder.
Shroeder, a graphic designer, never intended to start her own brand of seasoning but found that the grocery store spices weren’t doing it for her. “There are so many products out there that say they’re hot, but they’re really not,” she says. “I just want everything to have so much flavor – salt and pepper were never enough.”
From her Memphis kitchen, Shroeder used her special mix on everything from ribs to hot wings to vegetables. “I used it on pretty much everything I cooked, and people started asking me for it,” Shroeder says. “First they’d ask what’s in it, then they’d say ‘if you’re not going to tell me, can you give me some.’ I’d put it in a little container for them. I felt kind of like a drug dealer.”
As demand for her seasoning grew on a small scale, her friends encouraged her to bottle the mix, which already had a name for itself. “When it came time to name the product, everyone said it’s already named ‘Nikki’s Hot Ass Seasoning,’” Shroeder says. “That was just sort of a public name that we thought would not be very serendipitous to change. We didn’t know if it would go over well or not, but that didn’t really matter.”
Since starting in 2011, the Nikki’s Hot A** line has expanded to include kettle chips and bloody mary mix, sold both online and in more than 70 stores nationwide. And Shroeder’s face appears on every bottle and box – partly as a warning for the heat behind the label, but also a reminder of the endearing, candid quality of Hot A**. “It’s just a face I was making in the kitchen,” Shroeder says with a laugh. “We took the picture in my kitchen, and it was just a snapshot for the mockup, but then, when it came time to really send it to print, we probably took a hundred and none of them turned out as good as the mockup. We could never ever duplicate it; it’s just too funny.”
Much like the packaging, the intense flavor of Nikki’s Hot A** Chips can’t be copied. After the seasoning sold well in small grocery stores like Miss Cordelia’s Market in Memphis, Shroeder decided to go with kettle chips smacked with her seasoning as the next product. “I was already doing the homemade chips at home and wanted to perfect the recipe. The kettle chip is something really substantial, crunchy and holds onto the seasoning really well.”
To set the chips apart, though, she added ghost pepper, a pepper 900 times hotter than Tabasco sauce. Havingone of the world’s hottest peppers as an ingredient combined with the attention-grabbing name has helped Nikki’s Hot A** products infiltrate nine states, and she hopes for many more to come. “What happens is somebody who has been to Memphis and had our chips, or somebody who has had a bag of chips sent to them tries them, then they make a request to their local place, and say ‘hey, the deli should carry some chips.’”
While it hasn’t been officially confirmed that Nikki’s Hot A** Chips are the hottest chips in the country, it’s hard to argue with the fiery sting of the ghost pepper about it. “I’ve never tasted anything hotter, but you can put ghost pepper on anything and it’ll be hot; it’s a much more difficult task to make something hot and good.”
Although they’ve run into conflicts in the past based on the somewhat inflammatory name, Shroeder sticks to her guns when it comes to keeping the Hot A** line as true to its origins as possible. “It’s not for everybody, it’s a niche market, you can’t make a product that literally is appealing to everybody. We really like it hot and really enjoy an all-natural product, and we weren’t willing to compromise on that.”
To find out where you can get your Hot A** fix, visit nikkishotA**.com.