Drag Queen and Entrepreneur Andre Springer on the Unifying Power of Hot Sauce
Name: Andre Springer
Location: Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn
Number of people that eat together in your home: Andre lives alone but has a “dinner pod” that includes his boyfriend and the same few friends.
Avoidances: Andre is allergic to shrimp and technically lactose-intolerant.
Before starting his own hot sauce company, Andre Springer was all too familiar with the heat of a kitchen. A Brooklyn native with a fine arts background, Andre worked front-of-house gigs in the food industry for more than 18 years. It was during that time that he created his own drag persona, Shaquanda, heavily influenced by his three sisters, aunts, and Barbadian grandmother. Soon thereafter, Shaquanda’s queer-affirming performances spawned a hot sauce line of the same name, spicing up the lives of all who experience it.
Shaquanda is hot sauce personified. In fact, most of the words used to describe Andre’s brainchild, Shaquanda’s Hot Pepper Sauce (including but not limited to “hot,” “bold,” “complex,” “sweet,” according to Andre’s close friend and Kitchn’s Studio Food Editor, Jesse Szewczyk), could all be used interchangeably to describe Shaquanda herself.
We caught up with Andre at the Union Square Farmers Market to talk about the unifying powers of hot sauce, the best ways to support Black-owned business right now, and also to shop for chili peppers (of course).
How did Shaquanda come to be?
I started doing drag ever since I started putting on clothes as a child. For me, your gender expression is what you put on and show to the world. Then I actually got into the performing side back when I was working as a barback on Bowery. Linda Simpson was there hosting Gay Jeopardy and I loved watching how much fun everyone was having. After, I asked her if I could perform and she said I should come up with a drag persona — so that’s how it was born. At that moment, I decided I was Shaquanda.
Shaquanda is an extension of myself and has a sense of humor taken from my relationship with my sisters (I have three). Growing up we had a very fun, goofy, strenuous sisterly relationship. I was a brother, but was part of the sisters. Then I took style cues from my aunts and my grandmother who was a chef in Barbados and the U.S.
And then where does Shaquanda’s Hot Pepper Sauce come in?
Shaquanda moved into the food realm during Bushwig, a drag and music festival in Brooklyn. I was trying to think of a way to move my performance into a different space, and create a kind of portrait for myself. I worked in restaurants for 18 years. Food is such an integral part of my life. Hot sauce is part of Barbadian food culture. So hot sauce was a natural extension of my performance — something people could taste. Food, like performance, is not permanent. You enjoy it and then you have a memory. That’s the experience I wanted to create with Shaquanda’s Hot Pepper Sauce.
Walk me through a normal day in the life for you right now.
I wake up and have a cup of ginger cinnamon tea. Then I start my day by answering emails and checking on my fulfillment center for Shaquanda’s Hot Pepper Sauce, doing odd bits and pieces of the non-creative side of my business. Later in the morning, I go across the street and get a coffee from a Black-owned coffee shop. Then I come home, start real work. Then I prepare lunch for myself and take a little break. I usually go to the local grocery store or farmers market to pick up some items. Then I come home, do some more work, try to read a book, and start thinking about dinner.
Any big changes in your life recently?
I’m living by myself for the first time now (I’ve always had roommates!), so I’m really nesting. I’ve been repainting my walls, rearranging my palace, hanging things, getting my plants together. Oh, and investing in kitchen supplies. The other day I was like, OMG I need an immersion blender. And tongs (those were my roommate’s tongs … ). I’m not a big baker, so I realized I don’t have any cookie sheets. Things like that I didn’t realize I always shared.
At the beginning of quarantine, I was subletting from friends, Chris and Maya, in Harlem in this beautiful brownstone. We spent a lot of our time cooking together. I had access to my own kitchen so we’d invite each other to our separate floors to eat together. Chris’s mom is Korean so he made all these wonderful dishes, and Maya’s dad is Italian so she made fun pasta dishes and sauces. I made a lot of Caribbean food. We switched it around so we didn’t become too bored. It was always a food adventure together.
What’s on the menu for your next dinner pod gathering?
I love making soups and stews now that it’d getting colder, so I’m thinking a whole scenario of different gourds. A puréed soup, a broth-y soup. If I’m feeling earthy, I just go to the market to see what’s available and that’s what inspires a dish.
Favorite quarantine food memory so far?
I made a forager’s pie for friends I was staying with! It was a very involved recipe. I used wild rice, mushrooms, carrots, onions, chives, garlic. I made tomato paste then cooked that down with cider. It was this love affair of combining different flavors at different points and took a few hours to make. I had to call my chef friend because I made a boo boo with the potato on top. I was like Just tell me a French term to fix them. The answer was use more cheese, obviously. My friends just devoured it. I was so proud of myself.
I want to join the pod! What’s it like to go grocery shopping with you?
My boyfriend likes to bike more than I do — he’s an inspiration in terms of getting off my butt. So we’ll take our bikes to different farmers markets sprinkled around the city, which are amazing. It’s also hot pepper season which is something I live for. I love to get local peppers from the Union Square Farmers Market. In my hot sauce I use scotch bonnet habaneros, floral, fruity jalapeño varieties. Thai chiles. This is peak pepper season.
There’s a family-owned market in Bed-Stuy that I like to support as much as I can. I get dried goods from there and then hop on my bike and go to Whole Foods for frozen or fresh fish. If I get meat, I prefer to go to a butcher. I’m able to afford to make more decisions about that kind of stuff, and be conscientious of where I do spend my money. As customers, we have to think about the money we spend and where we spend it. Are we going to a cafe, ordering a Coke, and staying for three hours? How does this business sustain itself?
Are you missing performing and gathering these days?
It’s been interesting. I’ve really enjoyed doing drag, but I have also loved growing out my beard too. It’s been an interesting development of embracing my more masculine side. I do miss going to shows, dressing up, and activating different spaces with loving queer energy. I also miss interactions with people. Everyone loves hot sauce (everyone who loves spicy food, at least). That group ranges from kids, to grown adults, to dads who like to barbecue, to grandads, to people who typically don’t interact with queer people. We meet in a common ground in our love of spicy food. So, my hot sauce can personalize someone they typically don’t interact with and help find a commonality.
Do you put your hot sauce on everything?
Not typically! It depends on what I’m eating. I like to cook with it. Anything fried, it’s going directly on it though. I do carry it with me in my bag.
Has production been affected by the pandemic?
Since COVID, demand skyrocketed. People are experimenting more with cooking at home and there has also been a big push for supporting Black-owned businesses, which is amazing. But unfortunately, I wasn’t prepared for that amount of orders. It went straight past my inventory. And for a few months I wasn’t able to produce. We have a lot of inventory now, but there was a huge backlog due to a supply chain shortage of bottles and caps. Emotionally it’s been very hard. I come from a front-of-house background, which means I always want someone to have a wonderful experience. So now a lot of my time is spent responding to customer emails.
What’s the best way to support small BIPOC businesses without inundating them right now?
It’s fantastic to support a small business. At the same time, we don’t have resources like Amazon and other companies to scale up so fast. If there’s an issue, it’s always good to check in, but not on all platforms of communication. It’s one thing to send an email, another email, a DM, and comment negatively on someone’s post about their order all within the same day. Start with one message. Kindness, empathy, and understanding goes a long way.
The Way We Eat is a series of profiles and conversations with people like you, about how they feed themselves and their families.We’re actively looking for people to feature in this series. You don’t have to be famous or even a good cook! We’re interested in people of all backgrounds and eating habits. If you’d like to share your own story with us, or if you know of someone you think would be great for this series, start here with this form.