Dave Rose: The history of Smoke Show hot sauce

Dave Rose is 28 years old. Born and raised in Montreal, he worked in the restaurant industry for a few years before coming up with the idea for his Smoke Show hot sauce. From starting a toilet bowl company — you read that right — to volunteering at an orphanage in Nepal, “I was kind of all over the place” (laughs), Dave has always been a risk-taker!

“I definitely wanted the word smoke incorporated into the name of my hot sauce. Smoke show means one of two things: a very attractive woman or man; or a wild night out. I used it a little too much for the second definition (laughs), but now it obviously just refers to my business.”

“It was the work I did at Liverpool House, Vin Papillon, and Joe Beef that motivated me with my idea for Smoke Show. I never would have made this hot sauce if I hadn’t worked in the restaurant industry. And when I say restaurant industry, I mostly mean Joe Beef. The attention to detail, the table setting, the cooking, the smoking; I really started to get into it while working there. Vanya is the most perfectionistic person there is: she is the best boss in the world, she is SO on point! Her attention to detail is phenomenal. There are so many things I’ve learned from working there, it’s really influenced me.”


The day Dave made his first Smoke Show hot sauce was the day after a night out with the guys at Joe Beef, he was — by his own account — extremely hungover. “I was going to my parents’ house in Vaudreuil for dinner and I had the terrible ‘morning after shame’. I was 25 years old and felt I had to do something with my life. Before dinner, I went to the Atwater Market and bought some jalapeños. When I arrived at my parents’ house, my older brother Nick (13 months older) was making ribs on the smoker. Nick is a great cook; and honestly, if that day the smoker hadn’t been out, my sauce recipe would be much different, and I probably wouldn’t be here today.” David figured that if he smoked the peppers, the taste would probably be better. He made the sauce all night at his parents’ house (and stunk it up), then bottled it.

“When I finally tasted it, it was OK (laughs). Not the best sauce. I put it in my fridge and forgot about it.” A few days later, Dave was having a BBQ with friends and they asked for hot sauce. When he ran out of Tabasco or Sriracha, he took out his hot sauce and left it on the table. When he came back, all his friends were wondering where this mysterious and delicious sauce came from. He told them that he had made it. The next day, a friend asked if he could save some for the next time he made it, and his friend Max Ruiz Laing convinced him that he absolutely had to sell his sauce; it was too good!

Dave decided to find out for sure and went out to get other opinions. First, he went to the guys at the Drinkery, whom he knows well. They made a Bloody Ceasar with his sauce, and it’s still delicious! They assure him that if he starts selling it, they will buy it. Then he heads off to Lowell’s, whose owner is known to be a hot sauce lover. It was the first unbiased opinion. “I gave the Lowell’s owner a taste and he loved it. He was my very first Smoke Show customer!”

“Montreal in a bottle”

It was with his best friend Mike and his brother Nick that Dave teamed up to build his project. Each pepper is seeded and smoked. They are removed from the smoker, then mixed with the other ingredients. They are then strained, boiled, and bottled. It’s a fairly lengthy and formal process; each bottle takes a week to produce. And the bottle is reusable.

His sauce is now used in a few restaurants and sold in several stores. “I always wanted to be different from other hot sauces that use flames; I wanted something simple, no bullshit, and I wanted to be where other sauces aren’t. I wanted to stand out from the crowd. What I want is for Smoke Show to be seen as Montreal in a bottle: cool. The image, the taste, the accessibility. I wanted to partner with people who understood me: Joe Beef, Nora Gray, Bremner, Majestique, Loïc, etc.”

Dave was working at Majestique at the same time he started his hot sauce business. “One of the key moments in my company was when David McMillan came to me at Majestique and said he heard I was doing hot sauce. He has his own hot sauce, so I was a little stressed. Before I even brought him a glass of water, he asked me to taste it. And before I even asked him what he thought of it, he said, “I see what you’re doing here.” I was so happy because he didn’t tell me it was horrible! (laughs) The fact that he “gets” my sauce — the aesthetics and the taste — that was the biggest motivator, the biggest approval factor for me. He then told me he would help me and gave me the name of his sauce supplier and distributor, and that meant he was giving me his blessing.

After returning from volunteering in Nepal, Dave had a health scare that landed him in the hospital. Fortunately, everything was back to normal after a few months. During this time, he literally brooded. “It was horrible, but it allowed me to give everything to this company! I couldn’t work anywhere else, and I couldn’t drink. I was in business mode every day; I was driving the project forward in leaps and bounds. Without those intensive months, forced to think, my business wouldn’t be here today.”

Then the Manaras brothers came to him. Owners of a garage door company, they were looking to do a different and fun investment project. So they became five partners in Smoke Show — Mich Manaras, Andy Manaras, Mike Ionescu, Nick Rose, and Dave Rose.

Signs of success

“The thing I’m most proud of is when establishments tell me they’ve stopped buying Tabasco and are only using my sauce. Wow! One day I was on the highway in my Smoke Show truck and a guy passed me and gave me a thumbs up; I guess he knew and liked my sauces! I also love to think that I’m in people’s fridges; when they make food, they use my sauce, it’s quite an honour! People usually like it because it’s not too spicy or too sweet.”

We are convinced that with such a kind, passionate and charming owner, a story like his, an optimistic vision, a unique brand image, and a taste this good, Smoke Show hot sauce will become the favourite sauce of Montreal, and even of Canada, in the next few years! The future is only looking up.

N.B. “When I was making sauce in their house, and it stank everywhere, they could have confronted me, like what the fuck are you doing? But I’m lucky enough to have the most supportive and understanding parents in the world. I have to thank my parents in this story for their unconditional support and constant reminders to do what makes us happy in life. Also, I couldn’t have done it without my four crazy business partners who saw the potential of my sauce from the beginning. Dave, Fred, Marco, and Vanya (and the entire Joe Beef team) who taught me to always pay attention to the small details. Let’s add my family from Majestique, the first restaurant to serve Smoke Show with its oysters, the inspiring Wolfe sisters, Rocco, Nick Ishak, Handsome Max Ruiz Laing, Marley, and the whole Loic team (thanks for all that Eska!)”

To see the Smoke Show products, click here.

From the magazine