Heart of Louisiana: Panola Pepper

Updated: Jun. 15, 2021 at 9:45 PM CDT
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LAKE PROVIDENCE, La. (WVUE) - It was a way to provide year-round jobs for farm workers in the Northeast Louisiana town of Lake Providence. And this success story started with grandma’s home-made recipe for hot sauce.

This is the flat delta farm region of extreme Northeastern Louisiana, only five miles from the Arkansas state line. This area is home to the Panola Pepper Company tucked away near the Mississippi River levee on an oxbow lake.

This pepper sauce making business started with grandma.

“She was a fabulous cook and she made hot sauce at home and everyone always wanted it. Then my dad started taking over the job when she got older, tired of making it, and his friends would come to the house and fill up their empty whiskey bottles or Worcestershire bottles,” says Katie Coullard.

Coullard’s family has been farming East Carrol Parish for generations. It’s an area that has seen hard times with unemployment. Sometimes topping 20 percent. Her father Grady Brown would hire and then lay off workers depending on the season.

“And he thought he could create employment, create jobs for people by taking his mom’s recipe for hot sauce and turn it into a business. And he would keep his farmers who would go on unemployment during the Winter. He could keep them busy. So that was another 15 or 20 people at least that he could provide jobs for,” says Coullard.

That first batch of Panola Pepper Sauce produced in the Winter of 1983 was a hit.

“It sold out within three months. And so it became a full-time business.”

It’s a highly competitive market There are a lot of hot sauces on the shelf. How was it your dad was able to take his mother’s hot sauce recipe and turn it into a big business?

“Hard work and persistence, dedication. He spent many hours going from the farm to here and back and forth.”

Now, the Panola Pepper Company is a year-round operation. It has 40 employees during the slower months and that workforce will swell to 80 or 90 during the high season. And to grow its business Panola now focuses on manufacturing hot sauces for other brands. That is now 95 percent of the business.

“If we could take someone else’s recipe and make their sauce and ship it to them so that they could take it to market, it would create even more jobs here for us.”

Coullard says Panola makes sauces for brands like Goya and Slap Ya Mamma and also creates gifts and personalized products for businesses. She says hot sauces are growing in popularity.

“The millennials and younger than that are even loving hot products. And we’ve seen the market really increased. So ketchup used to be the number one condiment in America. Now hot sauce is really, really it’s a fact.”

An if you see Panola’s Gourmet Pepper Sauce, that is grandma’s original recipe.

For more on Panola Pepper and other Heart of Louisiana stories, visit HeartofLouisiana.com

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