Florida Foodie: Dino Ferri sells scorching hot sauces when he’s not running the Central Florida Zoo

Hotter Than El sauces can be seen scorching celebrity tongues on ‘Hot Ones’

Dino Ferri is the type of guy who doesn’t sweat when the heat is on.

“It’s a rush. It literally is a rush,” Ferri said.

The “it” in question here is capsaicin — the stuff in peppers that make them spicy. Ferri loves the stuff and downs it like a champ. He shares his love with the world through his own hot sauce company: Hotter Than El.

“I’ve always loved spicy foods,” Ferri said. “Its own cult, like craft beer was. Now, hot sauce is the new craft beer as far as being something that people really follow.”

In addition to loving spicy foods, Ferri is also diabetic. The dietary restrictions that come along with that condition pushed him to start making his own sauces.

“I always wanted something with no sugars. So I started doing it. Everybody always raved about it,” he said.


Hotter Than El's lineup of products (Hotter Than El)

Despite the accolades of friends, Ferri didn’t start selling his sauce until he lost his job in 2015.

“I lost my job and my career — thought, ‘Well now’s a good time to give it a shot,” Ferri said.

Shortly after that, Ferri did end up getting another day job, accepting a position as director of the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens. He later became the zoo’s CEO, a position he currently holds.

“(It) keeps me out of trouble,” Ferri said.

The zoo recently announced that Ferri will be resigning as CEO, but he will be staying in the position through spring 2022.

Through his work at the zoo, he was able to get an in with Tijuana Flats.

“It was our old development and marketing person at the zoo and she had a friend at Tijuana Flats,” Ferri said. “She tried my first sauce and said, ‘You want to go and drop it off?’ I dropped it off. I got a call about a month later.”

Now the chain stocks Ferri’s sauce, buying in bulk for its restaurants.

Despite that, it was when Hotter Than El turned up on the internet talk show “Hot Ones” that things really took off for Ferri, with people ordering from around the world. He also gets a real kick out of seeing celebrities wince from the burn of his sauces.

“At times it’s hard to believe. Especially when I’m seeing celebrities on YouTube, on ‘Hot Ones,’ trying my sauce and making positive comments. I mean, it’s a total rush,” Ferri said.

In the latest episode of Florida Foodie, Ferri talks more about starting his business and his love for spicy foods. He also shares samples of some of his sauces with Lisa Bell and Candace Campos, who do not share his tolerance for heat.

Please follow our Florida Foodie hosts on social media. You can find Candace Campos on Twitter and Facebook. Lisa Bell is also on Facebook and Twitter and you can check out her children’s book, “Norman the Watchful Gnome.”

Florida Foodie is a bi-weekly podcast from WKMG and Graham Media that takes a closer look at what we eat, how we eat it and the impact that has on us here in Florida and for everyone, everywhere. Find new episodes on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you download your favorite podcasts.

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About the Author:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.