Business heats up for Laguna’s sauce boss

Clark Olson, founder of Mago Hot Sauce, is a Laguna Beach native. Photo by Barbara McMurray

By Barbara McMurray, Special to the Independent

Most local food lovers are by now familiar with the small bottle of hot sauce with the cheerful elephant on the label. Mago Hot Sauce is the nine-year-old brainchild of Laguna Beach native Clark Olson, whose love of cooking sparked the idea to create his own line of hot sauces that magically bring out the flavors of ordinary foods. Although “mago” means a magician or wizard in Spanish, sauce boss Olson’s success has been more the result of elbow grease than enchantment.

The sauce is made in small batches in two nearby commercial-grade kitchens, where he and his staff roast all of their recipes’ peppers, garlic, and onions. Mago products contain no preservatives and are locally sourced, gluten-free, and vegan.

Although he is quick to credit others for his company’s success, including Mago’s delivery personnel, kitchen crew, and parents Carol and Neil Olson as advisers, Olson’s enterprise is a one-man operation. For three years, he has manned a booth at the Laguna Beach Farmers’ Market every Saturday morning, greeting shoppers and talking up his flavorful goods.

The little Mago bottle packs a big punch in a variety of flavors: red roasted habanero, tangy-hot pineapple, fiery ghost pepper, and smoky chipotle. All can be ordered online individually for $7 to $10 per bottle or in a variety three-pack for $34. A jumbo 32-ounce kitchen pack is available for restaurants and, presumably, heavy hot sauce users.

“I enjoy experimenting with new flavors that we offer seasonally in limited quantities,” Olson said. “In early May, we’ll introduce a ginger lemongrass hot sauce. It has a Thai influence with a California twist, a subtle taste of mustard that makes it unique. Its zesty vibe goes nicely with seafood, chicken, pork, and vegetables.”

Top seller and flagship hot sauce Mago Red is a palate-awakening blend of roasted habanero and Fresno chili peppers, garlic, onion, vinegar and salt. Food critics have noted that while spicy, Mago Red’s heat doesn’t overpower the flavor of foods. Annual sales continue to grow as word spreads and hot sauce aficionados discover Mago’s piquant charms.

Olson graduated from Laguna Beach High School in 2005 after an idyllic Laguna Beach childhood surfing Brooks Street and breakfasting at the departed Jolly Roger. He still keeps in touch with friends from CLC (Community Learning Center, also now defunct) and Top of the World Elementary School.

“I got into food and cooking during college in Colorado, and even more so after traveling and tasting food in other countries,” he noted. Olson backpacked through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Argentina, teaching English in Buenos Aires for a year as he learned about South American cooking and culture.

Mago Hot Sauce is served to patrons at Penguin Cafe, Coyote Grill, Active Culture, and in San Clemente at H. H. Cottons restaurant. Retailers that carry Mago include Pearl Street General Store, Spice Merchants, The Abbey, and Buy Hand Laguna. In addition to online sales of its sauces, offers a handful of tantalizing recipes for dip, chicken, soup and even macaroni and cheese.

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