Frank is a genuine foodie and chilli expert who has a passion for sharing his knowledge and love of chillis with everyone. On a visit to the hottest shop in town in the Merrion Centre you can expect your taste buds to more than be tingled by delicious products from all over the world. I wanted to find out more about the Chilli-Shop and how Frank’s creative marketing has kept his business afloat during the pandemic.
If you don’t have time to watch the video, here is an abridged version of our conversation from 29th October as printed in the December 2020 THAT LEEDS MAG.
Deby: So what is your connection to Leeds, the greatest city in the world?
Frank: Well, I love the city and I think it’s the hub of the North. Being a southerner, I noticed that all the best projects, all the best foody companies, little, tiny, risky, beautiful little companies were from Yorkshire, Sheffield, Liverpool the North basically. Leeds is such a big growing city, it’s an amazing place.
Deby: So where does your love of chilli come from?
Frank: Well, I’m a foodie. I have to stress that. People think I’m a challenge shop. I’m a foodie first. My grandmother was from a farm in Bologna. Where it is all about the food and the wine. She married an Englishman called Frank, my grandfather. He was the banqueting chief of the Savoy Hotel, organising huge banquets for royalty, celebrities and FA Cup winning teams would eat there. As a little kid, I used to go to his house in London, and he would feed me caviar, petit fours, smoked salmon with lemon on it and I thought he ate that every day. I thought that was his normal food. But he just like loved me because I had the same name as him. I fell in love with food and flavours and tastes.
Deby: Tell me something unique about the shop.
My shop is one of the best places for a first date. I found that bizarre, but when I thought about it, you’re getting free tastings of something from the Caribbean, something from Mexico, something from America, and then it starts off these little conversations and their attention wasn’t on each other. And it was really funny. So it’s a funny place to have a date, but it’s a hot date.
Deby: What things were you doing in Leeds before lockdown? So, February, earlier in the year?
Frank: My shop before was a totally different look. We had 50 free tasters out every day and you come in and you try stuff all heat rated. As well as the shop I would go along and do festivals. And I would sponsor the chilli eating competition and have a stall. I would do markets and restaurants, I’d go do supper clubs and chilli challenges.
Deby: What have you been doing during lockdown and now to keep the business running?
Frank: It was a difficult time. My stock has got dates on they’re gonna go out of date, plus I might be unable to get stock. What I did was I bought a huge military ammunition case from a place called Dragon’s Bridge and filled it with the most sought after Hot Ones sauces which are almost impossible to get outside of America. And I did raffles. That’s what saved me during lockdown. All my lovely customers saved the shop. We raffled off the case, and I’m so grateful. I’ve kept all the raffle tickets that all these people that kept me alive. And every month, even though I didn’t say it up front, I’m drawing a ticket every month for another prize to go out.
And I did care packages, I designed a sauce called Self-Isolation Hot Sauce. I would do free deliveries in Leeds, you get a little care package with your name on it in Old English. A packet of the world’s hottest gummy bears, so you can trick your friends. I would drop it on doorsteps, knock at the door run away. People took photographs of what they got and posted it on their social media.
So their friends were going, “Oh, I want one of those.”
Deby: What do you think will be forever changed for the Chilli Shop?
Frank: So during lockdown, I rebuilt my shop, I designed it how I’ve always wanted it to be as an experience for the customer. And I’ve now got a shop where we still do the free tastings but the difference is you ask. We are stronger than ever now.
Deby: Which chilli sauce should I have on my Boxing Day leftovers?
Frank: The best taste in the world. (I’m so proud of that, that’s my USP of the shop). Caramelised Garlic in Hot Olive Oil, you could put a tiny tip of this in anything. The oil releases the heat slowly and then traps the caramelised garlic taste.