Holy Shito

A t Atticus Market, P&M Market or the Wooster Square Farmers’ Market, you might come across a selection of jars shouting a colorful message: “Oh Shito!” The exclamation point in the logo is a pepper, befitting the spicy sauce within, which tastes so delicious that you realize the pun here is on a phrase of ecstasy, not exasperation.

Each jar contains one of four tweaked takes—fish, beef, chicken and a vegetarian option that’s also vegan—on shito, a savory Ghanaian pepper sauce stewed here with onion, ginger, garlic, a variety of spices and both scotch bonnet and cayenne peppers. Traditionally, it pairs with fried fish, a rice and bean dish called waakye or a fermented corn dish called kenkey, but it can liven up everything from eggs to pasta sauces to sandwiches. Oh Shito! cofounder and CEO Kwame Asare, hailing from Ghana by way of The Bronx and Norwalk, often asks returning customers at the farmers’ market how they use the sauce, and, he says, every person has a different answer.

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In Ga, one of the languages indigenous to Ghana, shito means, simply, “pepper,” and the condiment of the same name is a mainstay of Ghanian cuisine. Asare recalls his siblings going to boarding school with jars of homemade sauce, “trying to preserve it as long as possible over the school year.” He came up with the idea to jar and sell it on a recent trip to his home country, where his father exhorted him to start a family business. As he found himself eating shito every day, it occurred to him that he could share the sauce’s unique flavor profile with all the Americans who’ve never tried anything quite like it. “Explaining what our culture is like, and using this as a cultural connection, is a great way to bridge both of my cultures: my American culture and my Ghanaian culture,” he says. “I can use it to teach Americans a great deal about West African cuisine in general.”

A graduate of CitySeed’s Food Business Accelerator and a participant in the CT Food Launchpad at Atticus—which includes a public-facing pitch night this coming Monday—Oh Shito! is grounded in New Haven as well as Ghana. “We live in Norwalk, but our business is registered in New Haven, because that’s where we want to be,” Asare says, adding that he and his wife, Sonique, are thinking about moving to neighboring Woodbridge.

Emigrating to the US in 1996 at age 10, Asare came of age in The Bronx, focusing on his studies and soccer and, ultimately, building a life here. Oh Shito! is now growing on top of his career in finance, but he’s not the only one tending it. His wife is in charge of customer experience; his sister-in-law and cofounder Gifty Otoo is the chief product officer, developing recipes and variants; and his brother Kwabena Asare Ayim is the supply chain director, sourcing ingredients and managing deliveries. Meanwhile, Kwame perhaps only half-jokes, his young nephew Bryan Asare Ayim is the “supreme taste tester”—and, as far as my taste buds are concerned, he’s nailing it.

Oh Shito!
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Written by Allison Hadley. Images provided courtesy of Oh Shito!

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