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When you think of hot sauces from the Carolinas, the first one that comes to mind may not be Texas Pete®. The first time I saw Texas Pete® at a North Carolina food show I was perplexed and remember thinking, “Wait a minute, that’s a North Carolina company?”

The fact that it has a whole other state in its name often confuses people, who are then surprised to learn this family-owned company, Garner Foods, started making hot sauce in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1929 and still occupies the same factory just outside of downtown Winston-Salem.

The legend behind Texas Pete® hot sauce is that originally the Garner family thought about naming their hot sauce “Mexican Joe.” At that time many in the United States associated Mexico with hot and spicy foods; but the patriarch and founder of Garner Foods, Sam Garner, vetoed that idea and used the nickname of one of his sons, so it became “Texas Pete.” (Source: www.texaspete.com/ the-legend)

To learn more about Texas Pete® and other Garner Foods products like their sriracha sauce and salsas, I took a drive up to Winston-Salem to tour their factory.

The production facility is in a modest building of just 85,000 square feet. When we pulled up outside and stepped out of the car we were greeted with the scent of tomatoes, peppers, garlic and onions cooking. That day they were making the Green Mountain Gringo® salsa, so the air had a savory perfume. Garner Foods also has two other off-site facilities, one where ingredients are stored, and the other where finished products are held prior to distribution.

Their factory and production area has seven production lines and runs two shifts with about 35-40 employees working per shift.

As I walked through the plant wearing my protective goggles, hairnet and ear plugs, I saw salsa being bottled, packets of Texas Pete® hot sauce being packed up and bottles of Texas Pete® briskly moving along a conveyor belt on their way to be packed into boxes.

Not all of the workers at Garner Foods are humans. I met a few of their robots during the tour — ”Hulk,” “Batman and Robin,” “Little Jeff,” and “Rosie” are all part of the team and have various jobs that help produce Garner Foods products.

Talk to Leah: Leah McGrath is the corporate dietitian for Ingles Markets. Follow her @InglesDietitian. Contact her at Lmcgrath@ingles-markets.com, 800-334-4936 or at www.ingles-markets.com/ask_leah.

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