Standing just a half inch over 5 feet, Monica Sanowar isn’t a very imposing figure. An olive-skinned woman with a motherly smile and calming voice, Sanowar gives off the guise of an innocent bystander incapable of harming a fly. But behind the profession of an everyday legal secretary is a burning pyromaniac ready to explode. However, “D.C.’s Diva of Hot Sauce,” as she likes to be called, doesn’t start fires with matches and gasoline − habanero and naga jolokia peppers are her preferred weapons.

Since 2009, Sanowar has been creeping up the ranks of the condiment chain. Equipped with three patented hot sauces − DC Redbone Hot Sauce, CocoLoco Mango Hot Sauce and Shak Shak Gourmet Jerk Sauce− the Washington, D.C., native’s spicy concoctions were a crowd favorite at last year’s Adams Morgan Day Festival. Sanowar then set the Big Apple ablaze, where her DC Redbone sauce finished third in the habanero category at the annual Hot Pepper Awards. The Shak Shak Gourmet sauce took home first place in the specialty sauce category.

Judges were impressed with the tasteful balance of Sanowar’s sauces. “Not too much and not too little,” as she would say. Sanowar’s heritage, a mixture of Native American, African and European cultures, doesn’t allow her to cater to one specific demographic, so she bases her sauces on how well they can attract a volume audience. Her blended hot sauces are designed to be impactful, but scaled back delicately enough so the flavor can be appreciated. “Where I come from with my sauces I’ll burn you but I won’t kill you; there’s a difference,” Sanowar said. “When you put a little something on your food you want something to enhance it but you also want to be able to taste the food. My thing is flavor.”

Ironically, Sanowar’s “thing” for flavor was discovered by accident during a trip to Trinidad and Tobago nearly 30 years ago. A regular fan of Tabasco sauce, she sampled a friend’s pepper sauce and was unprepared for the severity. “ tried to kill me, but I loved it,” Sanowar recalled. It was also on that trip that she discovered her husband Bruce, a native of the Caribbean, whose love for hot sauce knows no boundaries. Together, the couple created Sun Pony, the name brand under which her sauces are now marketed at over 60 independent local grocers.

After her husband fell ill a few years ago, Sanowar was ready to drop the experimenting and move on with her life. But with a renewed bill of health, Bruce encouraged his wife to give it one more try and D.C.’s Diva of Hot Sauce has been watering mouths and gaining recognition ever since. Her sauces received rave reviews this past March by the now defunct Chile Pepper Magazine and she plans on pushing her DC Redbone sauce into iconic status in the District. “I want it to be the No. 1 hot sauce in this city,” Sanowar says. “My goal here is to get into the bigger stores.”

In the mean time, Sanowar will attend the Adams Morgan Day Festival again this year on Sept. 12 with a Caribbean-style platter. As a testament to her “inner pyromaniac,” Sanowar said, “I want people to thank me for burning them.”

For more information on Sanowar or to place an order for her branded hot sauces, visit

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO