by Anna Manning
In 1929, at the onset of the Great Depression, Sam and Ila Jane Garner were struggling to make ends meet for their family of nine. Their oldest child, Paul, was in school at Duke University. But Thad, their next oldest, had chosen to do something much different with his college money.
Thad used his college money to buy a barbeque restaurant. The restaurant ultimately failed, but the “special hot sauce” he used in the restaurant did not. People loved the hot sauce so much that the entire family started pitching in to help make and sell it.
This “special hot sauce” is now known as Texas Pete. Originally, the family considered calling the sauce Mexican Joe to reflect the tang and spice of the sauce. But the family decided that it had to be an American name and ultimately settled on Texas Pete. Sam’s son Harold was nicknamed Pete, and they thought that Texas fare resembled the cuisine of Mexico.
In the early 20th century, Americans associated movie cowboys with Southern culture, leading to the creation of the familiar Texas Pete cowboy logo. Texas Pete, the North Carolinian cowboy, “represented a sort of universal image of rugged independence and self-reliance, the perfect ideal for a family business trying to survive tough times.”
In 1946, Sam and three of his sons, Thad, Ralph, and Harold, formed the T.W. Garner Food Company. Under the name “Texas Pete,” the T.W. Garner Food Company began producing a variety of sauces, jams, and jellies. The company is now run by the third and fourth Garner generations. They still operate out of the original Winston-Salem building that was built in 1942.
Some have suggested that if the company distributed to places other than the southeastern United States, Texas Pete would be the top-selling hot sauce in the nation. It is, however, contrary to the company’s business policy to incur debt, so for decades it only distributed its products regionally. Recently, the sauce has started to gain recognition across the country after Food Lion and Wal-Mart began selling the beloved North Carolina product.