Rob Grether, cook and owner of Dashelito’s: Like a kid in the kitchen.
Kids should stay out of the kitchen. But no one’s ever told Rob Grether that. Watching him create his hot sauces in the kitchen of the Green Owl restaurant after hours is to see a 10-year-old crack into a brand new magic set.
To be sure, a child’s heart — and an actual child — are the pulse-points in his three-year-old business. Dashelito’s is named after his son, Dashel. Dash’s smiling face appears beneath a crown of bright red peppers on every five-ounce bottle.
But before there were actual bottles of Dashelito’s, there was Jennie Capellaro, the owner of the Green Owl. Grether asked her to let him try mixing some sauces for her menu items. She gave him the run of the kitchen, and the sauces caught on. Soon, customers were asking if they were for sale to take home.
South of a dark mustache and north of a black soul patch, Grether’s mouth moves a hundred miles an hour. Grether has the natural exuberance of a born salesman.
No wonder he also sells real estate. He ends his long day with Lakepoint Realty, heads home for dinner and the kid’s bedtime, and then will often hit the Green Owl kitchen to cook starting at 10:30 p.m. I caught up with him there as he stirred up a batch of Bourbonaro Sweet Potato, one of six Dashelito’s varieties.
A bright orange-colored light emanates from the sink: It’s nine pounds of firm, freshly washed habaneros. Grether de-stems them and pops each one between his gloved fingers: “They float on the vinegar if you don’t get a hole in them.” A fifth of Kentucky Tavern Bourbon stands guard over a steel tureen of plump, peeled sweet potatoes.
Unlike many small-batch hot sauce creators, Grether is less concerned with the total heat factor of his recipes than he is on how his mixtures complement foods. The Bourbonaro he’s making tonight is among his two hottest. But its flavors, those of sweet potato and just a hint of bourbon and raisin, rise easily above the habanero flames.
The Original Green Fire is a special concoction due to its garlic undertone. Smoking Green Owl, the mildest, has a peppy innocence that reminds me of the peppery, highly spiced sauces I’ve enjoyed in the Caribbean. The others are Red Honey Habanero, Sweet Heat Hot Pepper and Undertow Caribbean Curry. They sell for $4 a bottle through dashelitos.com.
Grether’s two careers came together in 2012 when he talked with the owners of the Madison Mallards about advertising opportunities for his real estate business and ended up providing the team’s official hot sauce. Grether had them write a line in his contract that guarantees a lifetime free Bouncy House pass for Dashel. “It’s laminated and everything,” says Grether.
Dashelito’s is carried in approximately 40 stores statewide and at local restaurants including the Weary Traveler, Dexter’s Pub, the Caribou, the Tip Top and Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry.
What’s Grether’s favorite Dashelito’s sauce?
“It depends on the dish,” he says. “Sometimes I just like ketchup.”