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Meet Celeste Raymond of Hot But Sweet in La Mesa

Today we’d like to introduce you to Celeste Raymond.

Celeste, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I was raised in a small farm community in Illinois where my four sisters, two brothers and I learned from our mother and grandmother how to can, pickle or preserve everything that we could get our hands on, either the excess fruit from the neighbor’s trees, going and picking blueberries, strawberries from the local farms or all the amazing vegetables my grandfather grew in his garden. At the time, it seemed more of a chore, but we were always glad when our mother would make Blueberry Buckle coffee cake in the middle of winter with those blueberries we had picked in the summer.

I went to the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and got my degree in Architecture. After graduation, not wanting to shovel snow ever again, I packed up my car and moved to San Diego. Once here, I began working in the architecture and interior design industry.

About 10 years ago, my neighbor started his garden and kept bringing me his excess peppers. Not being able to eat them all before they would go bad, and already having a freezer full of them, I wanted to find another use for them. I had previously tasted a product similar and decided to give it a try. After a few calls home to Mom, trying to get some of Grandma’s old pickling recipes, I started experimenting with spices and ingredients. Each batch was different and at that time I was not even thinking of small batch producing, so I never would record the measurements or ingredients. I made a lot of friends and family members happy with all the gifts of my relish.

I was encouraged to produce in larger quantities but cutting all those peppers, onions and garlic is no fun. You can ask some of my friends who helped me back then. There was a lot of crying going on while we chopped! Plus, I was working a full-time construction estimating a job. But then, back in 2013, I saw an ad from a local artisan for helping people bring their own products to market via co-packing. I thought it couldn’t hurt to speak with him and see what this would take.

The first year was a lot of research on both our parts. He needed to get his canning license so he could produce my product. Once all the paper work, licenses were complete, we started producing. I brought it to the first Farmer’s Market in Pacific Beach back in May 2014.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I never intended to start a relish company and didn’t know anything about the commercial food industry. I was very grateful for the help of my original co-packer in navigating the production of my original two products so they could be officially released by the FDA for sale.

It has been a huge struggle to keep all the “balls up in the air”. Trying to manage time at the farmer’s markets, overseeing production at a new larger facility in Newport Beach, marketing to retail stores and going live on Amazon, full filling on-line orders from my website, updating social media and keeping up with all the financial tasks is a day to day challenge for me.

I am thankful for all the help from my friends and family. I had to pick up 300 cases of relish and talked a friend into driving up in a big rental truck with me. There were numerous delays, and my poor friend was so hungry, but I was so nervous driving, I didn’t want to stop for anything. She found some breath mints and we rationed them all the drive home. We laugh a lot about this now.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Hot But Sweet – what should we know?
I currently make three varieties of Jalapeno Relishes: The Original, Extra Hot and Garlic Lovers. In addition, one Hot Sauce, Pineapple Mango Habanero. All my products start with the freshest vegetables and the highest quality of ingredients. No artificial preservatives are used. All products start with a nice sweet taste, lots of flavors and then a little kick at the end.

The relishes are amazing on hot dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches as well as they make some of the best tuna, egg or potato salad. The possibilities are endless. It is a great morning, noon and night!

The hot sauce is wonderful on fish, shrimp, chicken or pork. You can brush it on while grilling or marinate with it. I love my fish tacos doused in it and my chicken wings are always a hit when I use my sauce.

Currently, I am at five local farmer’s markets, my products can be found in small retailers through out San Diego county, Temecula, and Palm Desert. It is now available in both Missoula Fresh Markets in Missoula, MT as well as on my website, and Amazon Prime. The original Jalapeno Relish has become “Amazon’s Choice” for the category.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
I find the best part of what I do is seeing the expression on a customers face when they first taste my products. There is nothing I enjoy more than seeing and hearing their expressions and the simple joy it can bring to someone. It’s what keeps me motivated and makes me strive to keep my product true to my original homemade recipe.

In addition, because of the people I’ve met through the industry, it has given me a great opportunity to give back and volunteer with Kitchens for Good. Their mission is to break cycles of food waste, poverty and hunger through innovative programs in workforce training, healthy food production, and social enterprise. I go in with excess vegetables from the local farmers and teach a class how to pickle and preserve. Each student crafts their own unique jar of pickled vegetables which they get to keep and enjoy themselves. I always check back when they graduate to see how they turn out.


  • 13 oz. Jars of Relish are $9.99 available on Amazon Prime
  • 2 Packs of Relish are available on Amazon Prime for $17.98
  • 10 oz. Jar of Pineapple Mango Habanero Hot Sauce are $9.99 on Amazon Prime
  • 2 Packs of Pineapple Mango Habanero Hot Sauce are $16.50 on Amazon Prime
  • 5 oz Jars of the Pineapple Mango Habanero Hot Sauce are available at local Farmers’ Markets and Festivals for $6.00

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