All the President's Peppers
Rowan University president Ali Houshmand has an unconventional passion: Homemade hot sauce. When the university realized some of its students were having a hard time paying for classes, Houshmand, with the help of some of Rowan’s administrators, took matters into his own hands and began bottling his sauce for a good cause—an emergency scholarship fund for students in need of monetary help. Suddenly, Houshmand’s Hazardous Hot Sauce was born.
“More than we know, there are students that have something happen to them during the semester that leaves them without any money [to pay for classes],” says Dr. Jose Cardona, vice president of university relations and supervisor of Houshmand’s Hazardous Hot Sauce.
President Houshmand made hot sauce at home for fun; he decided to auction off 15 jars at the school’s student-run holiday auction with no expectation of the sauce’s success. The jars ended up making more than $500. Houshmand decided to make 50 jars for a holiday luncheon, and they sold out in minutes.
Cardona says the school then got the idea to market the hot sauce in order to raise money for an emergency scholarship fund for students who suddenly couldn’t afford to pay for classes, textbooks, etc. Today, students can apply for the scholarship and, based on their situation, the school awards them a certain amount of money. The hot sauce has raised more than $20,000 for students since its official launch in October 2017, and the university president has stayed involved along the way.
“He’ll be in the greenhouse at 6 a.m. and on weekends tending to his peppers,” Cardona says. “He likes to grow his own stuff and turn it into something.”
Rowan University worked with Rutgers Food Innovation Center to make the hot sauce happen. After a successful launch party, the school’s next event was a cooking competition on National Hot Sauce Day in January. Now, they’re focused on marketing to their own students to get the hot sauce even bigger.
“Right now, we’re barely scratching the surface,” Cardona says. “We’ve got 18,500 students to tap into. We’re not in stores yet; that’s the next level.”
Houshmand’s Hazardous Hot Sauce is available at the Rowan University bookstore and on the bookstore’s website. There are three heat levels, and the jars range from $10-$15 depending on the types of peppers used.
“While growing peppers and making hot sauce is a fun hobby, helping students in need is the real joy of this effort,” says Houshmand.
HOUSHMAND’S HAZARDOUS HOT SAUCE