Roofeeo on how family and community led to the success of Jah Mama Sauce
Roofeeo made a name for himself as a versatile drummer, performing with a wide range of groups across a number of different genres. But during the COVID-19 shutdown, he leaned into his love of cooking. Setting out to recreate his mother’s recipe for hot sauce, Roofeeo honed his skills as a chef and connected with his family to deepen his approach to food. What started out as a simple experiment turned into a rapidly growing business, Jah Mama Sauce, earning admiration from audiences and leading to a product that is flying off the shelves. In this interview, Roofeeo explained the inspiration behind his sauce, the unpredictable path that led him to develop his own business and the ways that a broader community helped inspire—and create—his brand.
Your hot sauce brand was inspired by your connection to your mother. Can you talk about how she influenced you and what led you to create Jah Mama Sauce?
My intention was not to start a hot sauce company and have a brand. What happened was essentially me flipping a negative into a positive. I lost my mom on my birthday in 2018. I can’t even put into words the different feelings that I felt in that moment. It took me a little while to digest and process everything. I learned from my mom to not lean into the bummer parts and lean into the more positive [aspects].
One of the things that my mom and I used to bond over was food. She would teach me these recipes that she grew up cooking and learned from people, and she’ll tell me where she got the recipe from and walk me through it. That was our way of bonding. I was in punk bands and tatted up and [was] doing all this stuff. My mom was a little Christian lady, super sweet, completely angelic. I was like, “Man, I can’t really talk to you about much, but we can talk about food, for sure.” In that, our friendship really grew. It was always really good to have that time.
Last year, I had some time off. I didn’t really feel inspired to work on music because of the climate of where we were. There was a lot of confusion and anger and just not really a lot of positivity going on, which is really hard for me because I feel like myself and other creatives can relate. We’re all empathetic. We feel all of these things. For me, I [took] a second to regroup and be honest with myself and the fact that I wasn’t inspired to make music. I still felt really creative, but I didn’t feel like making music and leaning into the entertainment aspect of things. I pivoted.
I’ve always had a love of cooking. I’ve cooked for my friends for almost 12 years, maybe even a little bit longer. I never really dove into the actual culinary art form of it, never really dove in and learned the real skills and [tried to] understand the equipment and have the time to dive into this thing that I had a passion for but, honestly, didn’t really know too much about. And [I] just practiced all year and went on crazy YouTube spirals, and [I] bought tons of books and just read and studied and practiced and just really tried to get my cooking skills up to a place where if I cooked for one of my favorite celebrity chefs and had a conversation about it, I would be able to hold my own.
Why did you settle on hot sauce in particular? How did you approach developing it?
I realized that one of the key ingredients in a lot of the things that my mom taught me how to cook was her homemade hot sauce. She used it to marinate things. She used it as a condiment and used it as a flavor enhancer. I was just like, “Damn, I can’t believe all this time, I never took the time to ask how to make this thing.” So, I reached out to my cousin, who reached out to her mom. My aunt, she was my mom’s big sister, and I’m sure my mom learned a lot of recipes and things from her. They both make a very similar style hot sauce. They both do it a certain way. In my research and in my travels, I’ve experienced tons of different foods all over the world.
So I started adding things that I felt would enhance the flavor profile a little bit just based on my experiences and using the sauce and formula that my mom and my family used for a long time and just tried to add my touch to it. In that, [I] came up with this formula after trying a few times. There were versions of it that [were] so spicy, too vinegary or too mustardy. There were some kinks that needed to be worked out.
When I finally felt like I had a solid formula, I brought it to some of my friends. They tried it, and they loved it. My buddy actually named it Jah Mama Sauce. My mom used to ship me some, and every time he was over to eat, he was like, “Yo, you have your mom’s hot sauce? Do you have Jah mama sauce?” It just evolved into that over time. It’s a new interpretation of this classic thing that I grew up having.
I’m sure other people also played a role in the development of the project. How did things develop from there?
I brought it to my friend Kevin Hockin’s house, who was running a pizza pop-up out of his backyard. His crew tried the sauce, and they loved it. He finally got to try it and came back and was like, “Yo, can I buy this? I need to put this with my pizzas! How can I get more of this?” I was like, “I only made 10 bottles, and I gave it to a few of my friends. I really don’t have the slightest clue on mass-producing this thing at all.” So he came back, and he was like, “Yo, I’m going out of town for 10 days. When I come back, it’s Labor Day weekend, and it’s going to be the last out of the backyard. Would you be down to do a pop-up?”
So, he goes out of town, and I order a bunch of peppers from New York because you can’t find Scotch bonnet peppers in L.A. anywhere. We were going down to all the early morning produce distribution centers, asking all the vendors if they had Scotch bonnet peppers. It was nuts, like 5:30 a.m., giant trucks. These guys have every pepper, every chili, every vegetable you can imagine. It was so wild. So finally, I just got them from New York. I just started getting all the ducks in a row to mass-produce this thing and try to make more hot sauce than I’ve ever made in my entire life.
In those 10 days, I reached out to my really good friend, the legend, the super-talented Pres Rodriguez from Miami. He does all the graphics for Andrew skate shop. He’s one of the partners in that. I hit him up, and he obviously knew me for a long time. And he knew the whole thing with my mom. The only points that I gave him was my mom’s middle name was Rosa, which is “Rose.” So I want to have some type of rose in whatever art that you do. And this fool drew a rose and put a heart in the middle of it, secretly, so that it looks like a petal.
It was perfect. I sent the design to Sticker Mule, they got back a bunch of stickers, I ordered a bunch of bottles from a bottle wholesaler and I had a little sauce sweatshop in my crib. Worked my ass off to make 150 bottles and be prepared with this opportunity that was just dropped in my lap.
I learned when I was super young. It might even have been from Wyclef when he came to my high school. He was like, “Success is when preparation meets opportunity.” That shit stuck with me for my whole life. Labor Day weekend rolled up, and you get the butterflies. You don’t know how people are going to receive it. You don’t know if the recipe came out exactly the way it was supposed to. We made a collab pizza, the “Jah Mama Za,” that has our signature chicken empanada filling on it with some other stuff their chef threw in there.
We did a pop-up where if you bought the Jah Mama Za, you got a 2 oz. bottle of Jah Mama Sauce for free, and you could also purchase a 5 oz. bottle as well. That shit was a success. We sold out. A lot of people got access to the sauce. Bella Hadid, not to name-drop or anything, but she’s the coolest human on the planet. She loves hot sauce, and she got it, put it on Instagram. Obviously, she has a huge network, and we had to hit the ground running after that came out.
I was like, “Damn, I guess I have a hot sauce company now. How do we do this shit right to honor my mom?” I have no doubt that wherever she is in the universe, she’s looking down, and she’s stoked that I’m doing something with our culture and bringing it to the forefront with my whole network of people that I’m fortunate to be good friends with.
Where can people find your hot sauce?
We’re mostly DTC, direct-to-consumer. On jahmamasauce.com, you can order bottles there and have them shipped directly to your house. We’re also at a bunch of local vendors like Uncle Paulie’s. We’re at Wally’s in L.A., Wine & Eggs, Clark Street Bread. Then, a couple of spots outside of L.A., like Dale Zine, which is a kind of zine, kind of general cool shit store that the homies opened in Miami. There’s Winter Park Biscuit Company that makes the most insane, delicious bad boy vegan/plant-based food. It’s been selling out, which is crazy. We’re still super young. We’re really just trying to get the word out and trying to make it as successful as possible. ALT
This article originally appeared in issue 397, available to purchase here.