A comic shop tucked into a modest suburban strip mall is perhaps the last place you’d expect to make a great gourmet find, yet that’s precisely where Sacramento’s hot sauce fanatics get their fix. Empire’s Comics Vault carries what many consider the city’s best selection of bottled sauces, attracting heat-seeking home cooks, professional chefs and hot sauce lovers from far and wide.
Ben Schwartz, the owner of Empire’s, says he’s “always been a big hot sauce guy” but regretted having to travel to get the variety of brands he craved. About four years ago, he took matters into his own hands and dedicated a section of his shop to selling hot sauces from across the United States, including a handful from Sacramento. He often has 50 to 100 different sauces on hand in any given week.
Schwartz is choosy about what hot sauces make the cut. Intense spiciness isn’t enough to win him over. “We don’t go just for the pure heat. Aside from playing pranks on your friends or adding a couple of drops to your chili, those aren’t really what we go for,” he explains. “Everything here, whether it’s made with ghost pepper, habanero, jalapeño, you get the heat but you also get the flavor. That flavor is really important.”
By developing relationships with manufacturers, Schwartz has been able to curate an eclectic collection. “The brands I carry are things I’ve tried and liked. I started with three of my favorite brands: Bravado, Lucky Dog and Humboldt. Then I branched out from there,” he says. Some of the standout labels on Empire’s shelves include Butterfly Bakery of Vermont, Colorado’s Seed Ranch Flavor Co. and Formosa Hot Sauce out of San Jose.
In the tradition of Comic-Con, Empire’s hosts an annual Hot Sauce Con, bringing together vendors and their hot sauce fandom for tastings and camaraderie. “It’s a great time to grab a taco, try all kinds of sauces and hang out with the people who made them,” says Schwartz.
Empire’s Comics Vault & Hot Sauce
1120 Fulton Ave.