By Jessy Yancy

Itâ€TMs hard to believe in a city now nationally renowned for its hot chicken, but when Ric Ousley and his sister moved to Nashville from Mississippi 20 years ago, they couldnâ€TMt find any salsa they considered hot enough. So they decided to make their own.

“We went to the store and started looking at ingredients, and thought, â€~Hey, we can make this,â€TM ” Ric recalls. They had grown up barbecuing and playing around with recipes, so he figured it wouldnâ€TMt be too hard to create the spicy salsa he was seeking. That wasnâ€TMt the case.

“We couldnâ€TMt eat the first batch,” he says, laughing. “We like hot, but it was way, way too hot.”

After some trial and error, they created a more palatable salsa. “Herbs and spices are the secret ingredient,” he says. “Thereâ€TMs a balance to getting that heat level and flavor.”

Ric and his wife, Haseena, kept tweaking the salsa recipe for years, gifting it to friends and family. “Everyone always encouraged us to sell it,” Haseena says.

Eventually, they reached out to Barry Burnette of the Produce Place, a natural grocery store in Sylvan Park. Ric is quick to credit Burnette with getting the business off the ground. “Barry helped us with our labels and gave me numbers of people to talk to,” he says. “Heâ€TMs kind of like my mentor.”

After getting certification to cook acidified foods and working with UTâ€TMs food science department on process control and FDA regulations, Ousley Ouch was officially on the market. They launched in 2011 with two varieties: hot and mild. “I always said I would never make mild,” Ric says. But mild is more marketable, though he notes most consider its heat level at medium. “Everybodyâ€TMs palate is different,” Ric says. “Weâ€TMre not selling heat, weâ€TMre selling flavor.”

That flavor comes from natural sugars in tomatoes and red onions, organic peppers grown by Green Door Gourmet and that secret mix of herbs and spices—but not a ton of salt. “I donâ€TMt think you can find any salsa with lower sodium,” Haseena says.

The result is an all-natural salsa with a rich flavor that cuts through the heat, perfect for topping tacos, adding a kick to chili or on its own with tortilla chips.

Thatâ€TMs how Ric serves it at farmersâ€TM markets and grocery stores, where you can find him doling out samples. He started out at the Richland Creek Farmersâ€TM Market near his West Nashville home, and from there began networking with folks like Alan Powell, who invited him to sell at the Barefoot Farmerâ€TMs weekly CSA drop-off. It opened up connections to more farmersâ€TM markets and grocery stores such as Whole Foods and Publix, and also led to the couple discovering the Cumberland Culinary Kitchen in Lebanon, which gave them the ability to cook much larger batches of salsa. Their all-day cooking sessions now take place every two weeks.

“The day before, weâ€TMre taking the tomatoes and jars, cutting onions, setting up for the cook,” Ric says. “Then we cook from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., almost nonstop. You have breaks between batches, but once it comes up to the level that it has to be jarred, you canâ€TMt stop.”

Thanks to the culinary center and a couple of helpers on cook days, they can now make 10 times as much salsa as when they started out, building up enough of a supply to take a break by mid-summer. But despite that growth, itâ€TMs primarily just the two of them running the business, from accounting to distribution. “We do everything ourselves—we donâ€TMt even let anyone else chop our onions,” Haseena says with a laugh.

But they do turn to the public for help in coming up with new salsa flavors. “All the new ones we sample at the farmersâ€TM markets and get feedback so we can figure out where everyoneâ€TMs palates are sitting,” Ric explains. Theyâ€TMve launched a new flavor every year theyâ€TMve been in business, though he is tight-lipped about whatâ€TMs ahead. “Youâ€TMll have to come to a farmersâ€TM market and see,” he says with a grin. “There might be a surprise.”

The market research helps them formulate the recipes. The black bean and corn flavor, a chunkier salsa with medium heat, is now the top seller. Other flavors include habanero peach mango, following demand for a sweet salsa, and ghost pepper. “Itâ€TMs real smoky,” Ric says of his ghost salsa. “The heat is on the back of your palate. The hot salsa is a little sweeter, with the heat on the front of the palate.”

This summer, available only at the Produce Place and Batch Nashville, Ousley Ouch will introduce a sixth variety called Ridiculously Hot, made with Carolina Reaper peppers grown by Randy Aydelotte and Trinidad scorpion peppers grown by Chris Spiegl. Even if youâ€TMre a heat seeker, it will make you sweat.

But thatâ€TMs how the Ousleys like it. Before hot chicken became mainstream, Ric would order the hottest on the menu at Princeâ€TMs, so spicy he had to wear gloves to eat it. Haseena grew up sprinkling cayenne on all her food. They grow cayennes in their backyard, and dried chile pepper ristras hang in their kitchen, where they come up with the test batches for the new flavors.

“We cook like weâ€TMre making it for ourselves and our family,” Haseena says. “We wouldnâ€TMt sell anything we wouldnâ€TMt eat ourselves.”

SIDEBAR

Where to Buy

Ousley Ouch is available at more than 15 retailers in the Nashville area, including the Produce Place in Sylvan Park and Hendersonville, the Piggly Wiggly on West End, H.G. Hill Urban Market downtown and the Turnip Truck in East Nashville and the Gulch. During the summer, you can find Ric at the Barefoot Farmerâ€TMs CSA pick-up in Berry Hill on Mondays, 12South Farmersâ€TM Market on Tuesdays, Vanderbilt Farmersâ€TM Market on Thursdays, Hip Donelson Farmersâ€TM Market on the second Friday of the month and West End Farmersâ€TM Market on Saturdays. For a complete list of retail locations and special events, visit ousleyouch.com.