Originally started as a means for a married couple to reduce their salt intake, Wholly Fire Foods, LLC has evolved from a home remedy to a natural condiment suitable for all hot sauce enthusiasts.

Mississippi Entrepreneur James Louis, who has high blood pressure, is the cook and creator of the hot sauce recipes, while his wife Doris is the official taste tester and adept at pinpointing the right mix of ingredients. The couple has formed Wholly Fire Foods, based out of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and have been in business since December 2020.

James and Doris Louis started their hot sauce company by growing ingredients in their garden and assistance from Communities Unlimited are moving into wholesaling

The idea for Wholly Fire Foods started in early 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began. James, who was accustomed to traveling across the country as a recruiter for Tougaloo College, found himself confined to his home due to the nationwide lockdown. Similarly, Doris, a nurse recovering from surgery, was also staying home. Feeling the need to occupy his time productively, he surveyed their backyard and decided, “I’m going to put a garden back there.”

The garden was a roaring success. Crops consisted of tomatoes, onions, corn, melons, gingers, and peppers. Around the same time, an injured puppy showed up at the Louis residence and became the family pet.

“My wife says the dog added protein to the garden,” James joked.

Even with no prior knowledge of gardening, all of James’ crops seemingly burst with remarkable flavor. The primary ingredient for their products, ginger, was sourced from there. James took more ingredients out of the garden, made a sauce, and poured it over salmon for his wife to sample.

Doris was so impressed she told James he needed to sell the hot sauce. “I went across the hall and flipped a coin,” James said. “I had to figure out how to put it on the market.” James, who named his company based on its wholesome ingredients and his faith, began looking into making and selling his hot sauce.

He researched and obtained a cottage food license in Mississippi. James purchased bottles from Amazon, and he made labels. After making his first batch of hot sauce, he went door-to-door selling it in his neighborhood.

The result? James sold out of the hot sauce on his first day.

James Louis at a tent selling hot sauce
James Louis has a low-sodium take on hot sauce that is catching fire for his ever-growing customer base

His hot sauce was so well-received that he could not keep up with demand while producing it at home. James began working with a small-batch specialty food packing company in Alabama, helping him with labeling and regulatory compliance to sell on a wider scale.

Currently, Wholly Fire Foods has five sauces that are United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) certified. Each sauce comes with its own unique story.

The first sauce is “100% out of the garden” called Wholly Fire Genesis. It’s made with minimal sodium and features some heat but not too much.

The second sauce was made because James wanted more heat. Roasting Ghost and Guajillo peppers together, he developed the Wholly Ghost, which packs increased heat but nothing that overwhelms the taste. The Wholly Ghost sauce is one of the small business’s top sellers.

The third sauce is called Wholly Smokes. James said this sauce is made with the Reaper pepper, which is traditionally a hot pepper. “What we did is we made the sauce edible with that pepper,” he said. “It is my personal favorite.”

After that, James developed the Flambeaux, which a chef used to win a Gumbo Cook-Off in New Orleans, Louisiana. It has a unique flavor thanks to the main ingredient, the Trinidad Scorpion pepper. James called the Flambeaux Wholly Fire Foods’ hottest sauce.

The fifth and final one is a barbeque sauce called Wholly Q Sauce. James said he had no intentions of making a barbeque sauce but got the recipe from a family relative and made some adjustments. Some of those adjustments included adding ginger, smoked brown sugar, honey, and maple syrup to give it a unique flavor.

For a long time, Wholly Fire Foods’ business came through word of mouth. Without a website or social media at the time, Mississippi Entrepreneur James Louis recognized he needed help to grow and expand his business’ footprint.

Two years ago, James attended a USDA program, which put him through an event called Path to Prosperity. James connected with Communities Unlimited’s Entrepreneurship Team and began working closely with Senior Management Consultant Rhett Douglas and Management Consultant Barretta Robinson on a business plan.

The unique line of hot sauces created by Wholly Fire Foods includes ginger as a main ingredient.
The unique line of hot sauces created by Wholly Fire Foods includes ginger as a main ingredient.

The two started the engagement by assisting and aligning financial projections so Wholly Fire Foods could scale, grow, and possibly apply for a loan. They helped James and Doris understand the fundamentals of business bookkeeping so the business could see prosperous and strategic growth.

Wholly Fire Foods has reaped the benefits of working with CU. Not only did they increase their market territory, but they continued to grow and expand. Before, their hot sauce product was being sold in specialty stores in Hattiesburg and other parts of Mississippi and Alabama. Now, their product is going into more chain grocery stores with plans to distribute to 100 stores by the end of 2024.

“James and Doris started in their kitchen during COVID-19 at home growing a garden like so many people did,” Robinson said. “With the excess of produce, peppers, and other items, they decided to make a sauce. By sharing it with friends and family, it quickly snowballed into the products they have today. As we worked with the client, he and his wife worked full-time jobs. Between that and growing a business, the client never stopped engaging in our meetings and providing the information needed. Even though it got busy at times, we managed.”

James and Louis also worked with the CU Lending Team on a small business loan that would help with costs for manufacturing and distribution for their business. Wholly Fire Foods, working closely with CU’s Economic Development Loan Officer Chris Tillman, closed on the loan on Feb. 23, 2024.

“James was a pleasure to work with, and he has a great product. It's not just hot. It has a unique flavor. After I sampled one of his sauces, I went online and ordered six bottles. I’ve brought it out for meals at several social gatherings and ended up giving the web address to everyone asking where they can find it. I’m happy to see his business grow and succeed. I’m glad we were able to help him along the way.”

— Chris Tillman, Loan Officer, Communities Unlimited

Wholly Fire Foods has grown so much they have already outgrown current production facilities again. Their product is in the process of moving into a larger production facility in Hattiesburg.

The company they are partnering with is called Blendco Inc., which has been a contract packager for over 40 years and has larger minimum batch sizes but requires a larger investment for inventory. This move allows Wholly Fire Foods to begin wider wholesale of products.

Mississippi Entrepreneur James Louis said working with CU has been instrumental in the expansion of his business. Now the two are working together to develop a strategic growth and marketing plan.

“I had no idea of what I was doing here, period,” James said. “I didn’t know if I needed to go to the corner store or grocery store. If you are growing the way we are growing and hope to grow in the future, you must get the strategic growth plan together. The benefit of working with Communities Unlimited has been and is getting to the next step. Getting to the next step will help you get organized. It will help your company or small business. We are growing. They will help you get to the next step.”

James Louis
James Louis worked with the Lending and Entrepreneurship teams at Communities Unlimited to propel his hot sauce company to success

Wholly Fire Foods’ growth has been so evident they were recognized as the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Mississippi 2024 Minority Small Business of the Year on March 7. The SBA annually celebrates National Small Business Week to recognize the remarkable contributions of small businesses across the United States.

“I appreciated the honor. We are going to celebrate it, but there is so much more to do. I can’t stop. The next step is to work with Communities Unlimited and others to build the brand. The next step is to work with more people to try a sauce that we think is good for them. Not just good tasting, but good for them.”

— James Louis, Wholly Fire Foods