The Chilli Shop Leeds: Founder of Merrion Street's much-loved Chilli Shop on 'putting Leeds on the map'
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The owner of Leeds’ much-loved Chilli Shop fell into retail by accident, after starting the UK’s first chilli festival in Brighton. A keen foodie from a young age, Frank was introduced to flavours from around the world by his grandfather, who was the banqueting chief at the Savoy Hotel.
Frank’s chilli journey began after he launched a vegetarian farmer’s market and booked his first stall - a chilli business. The owner challenged Frank to launch a chilli festival, something already popular in the US.
“It caused endorphins,” the 57-year-old told the Yorkshire Evening Post. “10,000 people came across two days, with hardly any advertising. Then the next year, and the year after, I noticed these bespoke foodie companies kept going bust.
"They had nowhere else to sell apart from my festival. I decided, even though I don’t like shopping and I’ve never wanted to own a shop, to start the UK’s first chilli shop.”
Frank packed up his shop in Brighton around eight years ago and opened The Chilli Shop outside the Merrion Centre. Now included as one of just six hand-picked eateries in Leeds Food Tours, and boasting a fiercely loyal social media following, The Chilli Shop has become deeply embedded in the city’s food scene.
Frank said: “We’ve put Leeds on the map and I’m so proud of that, we’ve got so much local produce. And when people who live in Leeds have visitors, I’m one of the businesses they want to bring them to. That makes me so happy.”
The Chilli Shop boasts a vast range of products, from hot sauces and jams to spice mixes and even chilli toothpaste, as well as supplying to local chefs, restaurant owners and bartenders. The shop stocks the hot sauces featured in the viral YouTube series Hot Ones, where celebrities including Gordon Ramsay and Billie Eilish are interviewed tasting 10 ascending heat sauces.
“We’re not really a shop, we’re an experience,” Frank said. “I’ve modelled the shop on Harry Potter and the magic wand shop. My training for my team is that one thing in the shop is right for them and our job is to find that. When they do, their world changes - it’s incredible. It ups the quality of everything they eat.”
Frank fondly jokes that his customers “aren’t normal” - he often receives hot sauces picked up by his customers on holiday or made by them at home, and was even gifted a bunch of flowers from one regular who thanked him for bringing a taste of her home in Mexico to Leeds.
With bricks-and-mortar shops facing ever-growing competition from the online retail world, Frank plans to launch more tasting events and experiences - which he says are pivotal for the future of the business.
Frank added: “Independent businesses are the life of the high street. When I first moved to Leeds, I spent years not paying myself and making the rent by about £5. Every penny counts for an independent and it makes a huge difference when you spend local.”