TOWN 'N COUNTRY — Despite living in the United States, Petta Brown grew up surrounded by the flavors of Thailand.
Moving from Thailand to New Jersey as a child, Brown's parents brought along the bold recipes of their homeland. Brown returned to Asia as an adult and fell in love with Thai cuisine even more.
"In our country, herbs and spices are so dense that the flavor of the food is more intense," Brown said.
After stints in real estate, a move back to the States, and opening and then closing a French-Thai restaurant in Orlando, Brown, 47, thought she was done working in the food industry.
"I said I would never get back into the food business again," she said.
That is, until friends urged her to bottle and sell the Thai sauces she had been giving as gifts for years.
Made without MSG or preservatives, Brown's four Secret Gourmet Sauces — red and green curry sauces, satay peanut sauce and tamarind sauce — use almost all Florida-sourced ingredients.
And they helped spur an entire business, Asian Confusion.
About a year ago, Brown and her husband, U.K.-born Ian Brown, turned their office and test kitchen, at 5831 Memorial Highway, into Thai Gourmet Market, which seats 14 people. Using her sauces as a base to the menu, they serve lunch and dinner Tuesday through Friday.
With the sauces still the main focus of the business, the couple spend their weekends selling them at various farmers markets throughout Tampa Bay.
They often serve food as well, to showcase the uses of the different sauces.
"We try to inspire people to cook at home, using my sauces," Petta Brown said.
She also would like to inspire people to eat healthier.
"Many people don't realize that all soy sauce from Asia and many premade sauces are laced with MSG, even if the label doesn't say it," Brown said.
What makes her Secret Gourmet Sauces unique, she said, is the lack of those ingredients.
"It's really hard to find those qualities in Asian cuisine," she said.
The line is gluten-free and Brown said she is working on making a vegan version of two of the sauces, which currently have shellfish as an ingredient.
The sauces are manufactured at a plant in Lake County, but the couple is planning to expand manufacturing and move to a closer facility this year, with a goal of breaking into the highly competitive supermarket industry.
But their plans don't stop there.
The couple hope to bring a line of packaged precooked meals to local markets this year, as well.
The pair are working with Hillsborough County Economic Development's Small Business Information Center, Petta Brown said, to get more information on opportunities for businesses owned by women and minorities.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman toured the company in December, bringing attention to the couple's venture, which is part of their plan for success.
"There are a lot of successful entrepreneurs in the area who might want to help," Petta Brown said. "We want to make noise. Maybe they'll notice us."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.