When Akil and Angelica Peck made the decision to close El Sombrero Restaurant after 45 years, there was a loyal customer base who refused to accept it. Angelia remembers that some guests even took down the signs they put up saying the restaurant would be closing its doors.
“Since we decided to close [in November of 2007], we’ve had a lot of old customers who wanted us to reopen,” said Akil.
The continued dedication from these former customers inspired the couple to carry out an option they considered when they closed the restaurant: starting a line of food products based on the restaurant offerings. They began the process of acquiring trademarks and other work in February of 2011, and this year they officially kicked off distribution of Miss Hortencia Original Mexican Hot Sauce.
The sauce is named for Hortencia Torres, Angelica’s mother, who ran the restaurant with her husband until she passed away in March of 2007. Customers used to receive a bottle of the original hot sauce alongside a bowl of chips and salsa when they came in for a meal.
Akil said the couple intends to deliver authentic Mexican food. He said the Miss Hortencia sauce is made with fresh ingredients and has more body than a typical hot sauce, since it is not blended. One of the challenges involved was how to direct the manufacture of the product, since Torres never wrote her recipe down.
“We knew how to make it,” said Akil. “We just had to get down the measurements.”
Akil said they hoped to find a Connecticut manufacturer, but found that most focused more on products such as tomato sauces. A company in Virginia Beach, Va. had the necessary setup to begin producing the sauce, and began distributing in that area in February. Soon after, they received fan mail from Virginia buyers. It was a positive sign in advance of their distribution to southeastern Connecticut sites, which started in April. Two cases sold out at the Noank Community Market on the first day.
Both Akil and Angelica had fond memories of El Sombrero Restaurant and Torres’ role in it. In addition to her role in the restaurant, Torres worked as a judicial marshal.
“We always used to bother her, because she’d deal with the prisoners during the day and the customers at night,” said Angelica.
The latter was certainly a more welcome group, however.
“The customers there, they were like family,” said Angelica. “They would come weekly, sometimes two or three times a week.”
Akil said Torres took the time to make sure that she was creating quality dishes and products. He was glad to hear from former customers who said the hot sauce tastes exactly as they remember it.
“It was a small restaurant, but it was made to order,” he said. “Nothing was premade. She made everything from scratch.”
Upon Torres’ death, it became more difficult to run the restaurant since both Akil and Angelica had other jobs and were raising a family. Angelica’s family continues to own the building, which briefly had a convenience store move in but is now vacant. Akil said it is possible that the space may be revived if they decide to do the production and distribution independently. They have started a company, El Peka Foods, and are looking into adding sauces and possibly chips and tortillas to the product line.
Since the launch of the sauce, Akil said over 1,000 bottles of the Miss Hortencia sauce have been sold. Some have been purchased through the El Peka Foods website and sent off to places such as Arizona, Michigan, Texas, and Rhode Island.
“We’re right now looking to expand and go into a bigger market as far as large grocery stores,” said Akil.
Miss Hortencia Original Mexican Hot Sauce is available at the following businesses:
- , New London
- , New London
- , New London
- Noank Community Market, Groton
- Grey Goose Cookery, Mystic
- McQuades Marketplace, Mystic
- Willimantic Community Market, Willimantic