For some people, the news that Brennan Proctor and his family would be closing their hot sauce emporium, located on 7th Street, SE, at Eastern Market, is a sad shock. But those who know some of what Uncle Brutha’s has been through over the past two years see it as another sign that the neighborhood is still a long way from recovering in the aftermath of last year’s market fire. And, more importantly, they see it as an opportunity for Uncle Brutha’s to focus on what they do best – make and sell delicious, locally-produced hot sauces.
Uncle Brutha’s didn’t always have a brick-and-mortar site offering spice rubs, sauces and marinades from across the country. For almost six years now, Proctor has been creating sauces that stand out from the typical hotter-than-hot, vinegar-based sauces that you can find in grocery stores and on California Tortilla’s ‘Wall of Fire.’ His Fire Sauce Number 9 (Chile Verde Garlic and Ginger) and Fire Sauce Number 10 (Four Chiles and Garlic) offer a terrific blend of heat and flavor. Before the shop opened two years ago, Proctor and his friends and family could be found selling the sauce on the Farmer’s Line at Eastern Market.
Then opportunity knocked, in the form of a storefront that Proctor leased on a year-by-year basis. He immediately set about building out a “hot shop” like he had first experienced while living in Los Angeles. He couldn’t do anything to change the exterior of the property – depriving him of the chance to draw more attention to the spices and sauces inside – but he knew that the popularity of Eastern Market and its vendors would offer a steady supply of foot traffic and curious visitors.
Unfortunately, that was less than a year before the fire that gutted the South Hall of Eastern Market last April. Overnight, the dynamic of the neighborhood changed. While the merchants in the market itself were able to take advantage of resources provided by the city to weather the hardship, but shops like Proctor’s weren’t so fortunate. With the closure of 7th Street to weekend traffic, the series of rainy weekends this spring and the rising cost of gas, visitors to Eastern Market from the suburbs and other areas have been increasingly rare. As such, it’s just no longer feasible for Uncle Brutha’s to maintain its presence on 7th Street.
There is a silver lining. “Focusing on the neighborhood development and the shop have distracted me from the wholesale side of the business,” said Proctor. Now that the retail operation is on hold, he will be able to make sure that his product can get to his ever-growing list of clients. Whole Foods carries Uncle Brutha’s fire sauces throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, and Proctor has established relationships with a number of local vendors, as well. Before he was the champion of last year’s ‘Hell’s Kitchen,’ Chef Rock brought Uncle Brutha’s sauces into the dining room at Union Station’s B. Smith’s. Endless Simmer (and the Post Express) were thrilled to find the sauces available with the hot dog special at H Street’s “The Pug.” Bread and Chocolate offers the sauces in their restaurants throughout the region, and they have recently debuted on the Club level at National’s Stadium (it’s only a matter of time before they’re offered on all levels).
Proctor also hinted at a new partnership that is in the works with a certain “Smart” group of vendors who cater to customers looking for good local foods “On the Fly.” Keep an eye out for more on this, as nothing has been formally announced as of yet.
For those who rely on Uncle Brutha’s as a source for hard-to-find sauces from across the country, this seems to be a temporary setback. Proctor has indicated that he is looking into new locations for future incarnations of the Hot Sauce Emporium, though he’s in no rush to open up shop again. He has looked into venues on H Street, NE, in Shaw near the Convention Center, and across the river in Anacostia. For now, however, Uncle Brutha is going to take some time to make sure his products are well-made and well-received everywhere they can be found.
If you need your fix and can’t find Uncle Brutha at a local Whole Foods, a nearby restaurant, or the newly-opened American Market at National Harbor, you can always order online.