Texas Pete

Written By North Carolina History Project

Necessity breeds invention.  The Great Depression contributed to the creation and sale of Texas Pete hot sauce.  

T.W. Garner Food Company made various sauces, jams, and jellies.  According to historian Milton Ready, the company “found a niche in the competitive barbecue and hot spice market with Mexican Joe, or, as it later came to be known, Texas Pete.”  Trying to find a name for the new product, marketers suggested Mexican Joe to indicate the flavor of the new sauce.  Sam Garner, owner of T. W. Garner Food Company, however, wished to give the product an American name, and one named after his sons: Thad, Ralph, or Harold.  Fortunately the latter’s nickname was “Pete.” The sauce was made during the 1930s.

During the 1920s, Sam Garner’s son, Thad Garner, owned a barbecue restaurant and made a special hot sauce for his establishment.  The restaurant failed but the hot sauce and its recipe survived.  The family started selling the product in various ways.  In 1946, the three brothers formed T.W. Garner Food Company and used the Texas Pete name to produce various sauces, including Worcestershire, wing, and cocktail sauces.   The company made such sauces because the sale of Texas Pete was not enough for financial sustainability.  During World War II, Texas Pete and other products were sold to the U.S. government as soldier rations.  

 Since 1942, Texas Pete has been located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  The Garner Food Company’s refusal to take on debt has produced a successful hot-sauce venture that is still outpaced by its competitor, Tabasco.  (Texas Pete is most popular in the Southeast.)  To be the leading hot sauce, the company would need to assume debt, and that practice goes against the owners’ business philosophy.  

The sauce’s popularity is expanding across the country, however.  Chains such as Food Lion and Wal-Mart sell the product and their adoption has increased sales of the Winston-Salem product.  The company has also taken steps to ensure that its products are certified kosher, and Charlotte rabbi travels to Winston-Salem to determine whether the product is kosher.  

The image is licensed by Creative Commons BY 2.0.