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Point Breeze couple make, sell spicy Guapo Sauce

| Sunday, Aug. 8, 2010

Leave it to the ethnically diverse Pittsburgh palate to pair an authentic Mexican condiment like Guapo Sauce with pierogies and kielbasa.

Hometown taste testers have found a variety of uses for the spicy product developed and distributed from the Point Breeze home of Luis Guerrero and Joanne Michel-Guerrero. From chicken fingers and deviled eggs to soft pretzels and wings, the garlic and chile pepper sauce is adding a kick to many dishes, Michel-Guerrero says.

"Originally, in Mexico, it's used like a steak sauce," she says. "We found people here like it as a marinade for chicken, fish or veggies or a delicious sandwich topping. People mix it with potato salad to give it an extra kick. It's great on pizza instead of red pepper, and some even like to dip chips in it."

Guerrero, who is from Mexico, met his future wife while she was attending graduate school there. They were married, and in 2003 moved to the States. He brought along some of his traditions, including his version of Guapo that was similar to a spicy sauce he enjoyed in the central region of his country, Guanajuato.

"We make ours quite different than in Mexico," Michel-Guerrero says. "Everyone seems to like it."

The sauce is named for an adjective in Spanish that means "bold, boastful, brave, handsome and attractive." Michel-Guerrero says it's the combination of garlic and chile peppers that makes their product unique.

"It's not over-the-top, burn-your-mouth spicy -- but you have to like spicy," she says.

The couple have professional careers in Pittsburgh -- he as a civil engineer and she as a Spanish and mythology professor at Community College of Allegheny County and a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh.

When they decided they wanted to try their hand at marketing Guerrero's recipe, they converted the third floor of their home into a commercial manufacturing facility where they make and bottle the all-natural vegan sauce that is free of gluten, sugar and artificial preservatives.

"It's an artisan, small-batch production," Michel-Guerrero says. "Instead of making the sauce in a large vat, we use blenders. Each makes only four bottles. It's labor-intensive, but it's a higher-quality product. In an evening, we try to make seven to 10 cases a night, with 12 bottles in a case."

Her parents, Donald and Toni Michel of Manor, Westmoreland County, help with the manufacturing process.

The operation got a boost when Joanne met with representatives of Whole Foods Market last summer and they agreed to sell Guapo Sauce in their Pittsburgh stores and, later, throughout the mid-Atlantic region. In May, the product made its way to shelves in Giant Eagle Market District stores and is being sold at McGinnis Sisters in Monroeville.

Guapo Sauce also is served with menu items at some Pittsburgh-area restaurants, including Shady Grove in Shadyside, Freeport Pizza Kitchen in O'Hara and Point Brugge Cafe in Point Breeze.

At Shady Grove, the sauce is featured in one of the restaurant's signature menu items, Guapo Chicken Sandwich, according to general manager Aaron Kavulich. The sandwich includes grilled chicken, salsa fresco made in-house, guacamole and lettuce.

The restaurant also serves it on the side with chicken quesadillas and chicken nachos. Because of its garlic and chile pepper ingredients, it tends to be paired with foods that lean toward Latin fare, Kavulich says.

At Point Brugge Cafe, Guapo is featured on the lunch menu as a component of its Spicy Roasted Pork Sandwich made with napa cabbage, cucumbers, tomato and queso chihuahua served on a ciabatta roll with Point Brugge slaw.

"The employees and I also love it on fries and fish tacos," says cafe owner Jesse Seager.

Guapo comes on the side with an order of chicken quesadillas, along with guacamole and sour cream at Freeport Pizza Kitchen, Fox Chapel Plaza.

"It's popular enough that customers ask for it with appetizers like onion rings and chicken fingers, especially if they've had it with the quesadillas," says Mark Hourvitz, general manager. "My chef Sal (Sunseri) thinks it's the best condiment we ever had."

McGinnis Sisters in Monroeville has been selling Guapo for more than a year, according to chief buyer Karen Novak. "It goes well in a tortilla wrap with turkey, shredded Chihuahua or casa blanca cheese," she says, "with just a little squirt of Guapo — because a little goes a long way. We call it Mexican mustard. I like to pair it with a creamy milder cheese, like Havarti or Swiss."

Because the sauce is so unique, it took a while to decide where to place it in the store.

"First we put it with the mustard, and then we had it in the Mexican section," Novak says. "Now it's in the 'Products of Pennsylvania' section. We just couldn't find a home for it."

Guapo Sauce sells for $5.99 for a 9-ounce bottle. The Guerreros' company's name is Colibri LLC. They belong to Buy Fresh Buy Local Pennsylvania and also are registered as a PA Preferred company with the state Department of Agriculture.

Joanne would like to see the family hobby turn into a family business, and they are working on expanding their product line. The family's second product, Fresco, a lighter cilantro and Serrano pepper-based sauce, is being introduced this week at Whole Foods Market in East Liberty. She will be demonstrating both sauces at the market from noon to 3 p.m. today.

"It makes a real good guacamole starter or is good served with veggies," she says of the new Fresco.

Or maybe even pierogies and kielbasa.

Details: .

Check it out

Luis Guerrero and Joanne Michel-Guerrero turned the third floor of their house into a small manufacturing facility, where they make batches of Guapo Sauce, a bottled Mexican condiment that is sold locally. A demonstration of Guapo Sauce will be given by Joanne Michel-Guerrero from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday at Whole Foods Market in East Liberty. Another sauce she and her husband, Fresco, also will be demonstrated.

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