A friend’s generosity during the pandemic brought Daniel Belhumeur’s future into focus, the start of a pattern that appears as the former photographer describes how he started and grew Deadly Dan Sauces in Saskatoon.

“You can't get very far without friends and family. I have an amazing support group,” said Belhumeur, who sees those connections as a key reason his business has found success in Saskatchewan.

Starting a business that involves making sauces by hand was a new direction for Belhumeur.

“I was a commercial photographer for 20 years and during the pandemic, obviously all photography stopped completely,” said Belhumeur, who also has experience working in restaurant kitchens as well as touring as a musician with a band.

During that time at home during the pandemic, he did a lot of cooking with his family. He continued making barbecue sauce and ketchup, something he started 10 years earlier, sharing these condiments with friends.

A close friend asked if he could fill up some jars for him, which he was happy to do. His friend was just as pleased to hand him $20 for the sauce. 

“I said, ‘No, I'm not taking your money,’” said Belhumeur. “And he's like, ‘I insist you take my money.’ It was kind of that moment that I was like ‘Wow, this really could be a thing.’”

“I ran upstairs and told my wife, Nicole. She is a graphic designer and she said, ‘Daniel, I'm going to make you some labels. You order some bottles and let's go for it.’”

So, he went back into his kitchen to see what else he could develop.

“I was at home all day long, so I was messing around with the recipes eight to nine hours a day for a couple months,” said Belhumeur. “We had the ketchup and the barbecue sauce in the line-up, and I thought to myself, ‘I can't build an empire on two sauces.’”

“So, I got into hot sauces and it kind of escalated very quickly and that's how the line-up came about.”

That line-up includes his Burning Berry Hot Sauce, which is made using locally grown Saskatoon berries from the Berry Barn just outside of Saskatoon. They are combined with Ghost peppers, coconut water and black pepper. It is a hot item (pun intended) around Christmas when local people buy it as a gift to ship to friends and family far from Saskatoon. Another local business, Grandora Gardens near Saskatoon, supplies some of the peppers he needs for his other sauces.

These unique Saskatchewan ingredients are selling points that can ensure Deadly Dan Sauces’ products stand out on store shelves across Canada and around the world. To go from his kitchen at home to running a business, Belhumeur started renting a commercial space to produce the sauces, passing all the necessary inspections and food safety courses. He got a business license and was ready to go into production and sales.

Belhumeur has had no problem finding people to support his business. As a Métis business owner, he appreciates the encouragement he has received. He was also one of five businesses to win the Saskatoon Region Economic Development Authority’s SOAR kihiw paskîyâkêwin Indigenous Entrepreneurship Competition in April 2023, which awards a total of $30,000 to promising Indigenous-run businesses to support their growth.

 “(Being Métis) is something I am very proud of, and I have had a lot of support from the Indigenous community,” said Belhumeur, who values creating jobs and nurturing financial success for the province’s Indigenous people. Everyone benefits from an inclusive economy, and the strong Indigenous businesses in Saskatchewan like Deadly Dan’s are, and continue to be, an integral part in ensuring the province’s economy can continue to thrive.

Different friends have each had a hand in how quickly the business has accelerated, making suggestions, and offering him opportunities to help him take the next step with the business.

“I know quite a few people, so it was really easy to round up the troops and get everybody behind me and everyone's so proud of me.”

While he found a market online through a website they developed for Deadly Dan’s Sauces, he also had a friend eager to sell his bottles in his Saskatoon store. This friend owns Glitch Gifts, which sells items unique items.

From there, other stores started selling his sauces, including SaskMade, some local independent grocers and Co-op liquor stores. Another friend had something in his garage to help him out – a hot dog cart, which he bought in 2021.

“It needed some updating, so we fixed it up and we hit the road with it. We offered four different foot-long hot dogs,” said Belhumeur, who kept his offerings all local. By taking advantage of the province’s different products, Deadly Dan Sauces is an example of how Saskatchewan’s competitive business environment can help small businesses explore new markets, broaden their distribution, and find new opportunities.

“We got our buns fresh from Co-op. We used Harvest Meats’ footlong wieners and all of our sauces, and it was a big hit. Our sauces were the key ingredient and really our strategic advantage,” said Belhumeur. “That went really well and then the following year, I was running my hot dog cart at a local distillery in town.”

Belhumeur said it is a growing trend in North America – breweries and distillers opening a bar and subleasing the kitchen space to someone else for serving food. “Some friends of mine were working from that distillery and said, ‘We’re opening our own place. We're going to be manufacturing seltzers and we have kitchen space. We would be honoured if you would run our kitchen for us.” So, he seized that opportunity too. The bar is The Shanty, which produces and serves Shipwreck Seltzer. The restaurant space Belhumeur runs is known as The Hot Sauce Grill.

At this point with the business, he is “keeping on keeping on.” Running a kitchen and producing bottles of sauces had Belhumeur working up to 12 hours a day until he was finally able to hire a kitchen manager, who he calls a “lifesaver.” “It's allowing me to get back into the sauce production,” said Belhumeur.

Belhumeur most enjoys opportunities to get out of the kitchen and into the community to interact with people tasting his sauces.

“What I love most are the trade shows. That's my passion,” said Belhumeur. “Going to a different city, meeting new people, setting up a booth and just making people happy and sharing my product. I love letting people sample and watching their reaction.”

He has had wholesalers interested in buying from him, but keeping up the production they would require is more than he is prepared to take on at the time. For now, he’s working through the certification process so that he can export his sauces into the U.S.

These exports would make Deadly Dan’s Sauces one of a growing number of producers in Saskatchewan who are exporting their products outside of Canada. Value-added products are a priority and key growth area when it comes to food production in the province and Saskatchewan is excited to see this growth.