Please tell us where and what year were you born. What was
it like as a child, growing up in your home town? How has the
town/district changed since your youth?
Sharp at Melinda Estate plantation, in front of a Carambola
Marie Sharp: I was born in 1940 in Belize City. Actually
my parents are San Pedranos, my parents migrated to Belize City
the same year I was born. They were originally from San Pedro,
My parents were separate when I was 8 years old, I came to live
with my father , he migrated from Belize city to Dangriga and
I came to live with him when I was about 9 years old for better
education, because out in San Pedro most of the people only spoke
Spanish and the schools were not very good, so for my educational
purposes, my mother decided to send me to my dad so I can go to
an English speaking school.
up was okay, even though I was with my father and my stepmother.
My father was a merchant, he had a general store, I had a good
has changed a lot. When I came here almost 55 years ago it was
only like a very small village, we had two paved streets, front
street and middle street, all the back streets were just dirt
roads. But it was very very very nice being in Dangriga at that
time. People were so friendly, we knew all of our neighbours,
it was just like one big happy family. I even learned to speak
Garifuna. I was very good at learning languages, I spoke Garifuna
BELIZEmagazine.com: How did you get started
in the business that made you so successful?
Marie Sharp: I married my husband, he was the
farmer. His parents owned this property that is a 400-acre farm
- Melinda estates limited. We used to spend all our free time
on the farm, planting things, all the fruits that could grow in
Belize, we planted some of. One of my sisters said, why don't
you plant some peppers for Dr. Gordillo? He was a medical officer
and at that time he was making a habanero pepper sauce that he
was selling on the local market. He said he had a lot of difficulties
finding peppers. I said, this is not a problem at all, so I came
to the farm and planted peppers.
when I took my first load of peppers to Dr. Gordillo he said "Ai
hija, my daughter, I will only use a little bit", and I got
stuck with all this habanero peppers, no market, nowhere to dispose
of it and I had to bring it all back home. You have to take into
consideration that I had a full time job as an executive secretary
with the citrus company of Belize at the time - I worked with
them for over ten years. I had a full time job and this was only
done in our spare time, on holidays and weekends.
I came back home with the peppers, took out my little home blenders
and decided to mash peppers like crazy. I went trough a couple
of dozens of those blenders and I started filling up my garage
with drums of pepper mash. My husband said, "What are you
going to do with all the peppers, the cars can't even fit in the
garage anymore. What are you going to do with all of that?"
Then I started coming home and playing around with sauces at night.
After I fed the family and got them out of the way, I stayed in
the kitchen and I started making my own sauce.
had about six different varieties of sauced that I made. I had
even one made form cabbage, one from cho-cho, and I had this carrot
base and I had one from papaya.
gave them away to friends, and one of my friends said to me, this
is the carrot base one he was talking about, he said "Marie
why don't you market this? This is better than anything we have
on our local market. You have to market this product." I
said, "You think so?" He said, "Yes this is going
to sell!" I started to think about it, but he planted the
little seed there. Then I just went out and bought myself three
tabletop stoves with four burners and a pot to fit each four burner,
one pot per stove, and I started to cook carrot sauce and make
pepper sauce. I would cook every night three big pots and in the
day I'd have a girl coming and fill bottles with a little measure
cup, fill the bottles and seal them. Then I stared filling up
my veranda with boxes of sauce. I had the veranda up to the ceiling
with boxes. And that's where it all started. I started going out
and I would make my own tortillas and refried beans and I would
go to all the stores and have them taste. I made everybody taste
it. "If it is good, put some on your shelf". I had to
go there and fight my way through all the stores. Believe it or
not, Belize was one of my hardest markets.
What was your first commercially produced hot sauce?
Marie Sharp: Melinda, because this property
here is Melinda estate and this is where I was growing the peppers,
so I though that the most suited name would have been the name
of the farm, so I gave it the name Melinda. I changed the name
in 1991, when my first distributor in the United States trademarked
the name, and I lost the name to them. We were working with them
and at that time I was not prepared for what I was doing at all.
I though everybody was honest. We were working on that kind of
relationship and the next thing I knew they had trademarked the
name for themselves, and when I started questioning, because they
were making all these products with the name Melinda, I said "What's
going on here?", they said, well the name is ours! I said,
"How come?". They answered, "Because we trademarked
it". I said, "But it is not yours where did you get
it from, the name is mine, it's my farm, it's my product".
At that point I think they realized that they had done wrong and
that they had made a fool of themselves. But they are still in
business, because at that time, when we hit the American market,
we were the only habanero producers in the world. We could have
had that captured market we could have been pretty well to be,
both of us working together.But I think he got to greedy, and
he messed up, because he killed the goose that laid the golden
eggs. He thought he had my formula, so by having my formula, he
found the cheapest source of mash in Costa Rica, but the Costa
Rican mash is not as good as our mash, they make a fermented mash,
I don't make a fermented mash. And this is where he made his mistake,
because he found out now that he is still nowhere.
I came back to the market with a new name, set back about five
years in my marketing plan, because naturally I am coming back
with a new name, I am starting over from scratch. So it took me
about five years to really come back on the market. By the time
I came back there were hundreds of other people out there with
habanero sauces. Not the same as mine, but it is still habanero
and it is still a sauce. That first time when we came out, we
had very little competition, only the people in Louisiana, the
Tabasco and the other Louisiana sauces that were out there. Now
there were hundreds of people making sauces, so it was that much
more difficult for me.
Did you consider taking legal steps against them?
take the legal litigation route, fighting for my name Melinda,
would have been long, costly, and require trips back and forth
which I could not afford, so I just gave up. I did have a lawyer
in the States and he eventually said, "Marie, the best thing
to do is throw in the towel. Give them the name, in exchange for
braking a contract with them". They were my sole distributors,
so while we were fighting, I could not sell to anybody. So I had
to give them the name, to break the contract so I could start
all over again.
Have you signed an exclusivity ever since?
BELIZEmagazine.com: What was the biggest
challenge you had to face to achieve today's success?
Marie Sharp: My biggest challenge was really
when I had to come back with the 'Marie Sharp' and recreate a
market for that product all over again. I also lost quite a bit
of money over the whole thing. A considerable amount of money
I lost, and at that time I thought about just giving up.
Where are the ingredients for your product grown - the peppers,
vegetables and fruits?
Marie Sharp: They are all locally grown. Certain times
of the year the Belizean farmers cannot produce onions and carrots
because of the heat. During the very hot season we cannot produce
carrots. As long as there are local onions and carrots, everything
comes from the local producers here, nation wide. Certain time
of the year I have to import onions and carrots from Mexico. The
peppers I had to import from Mexico maybe about once or twice.
Naturally everything would be cheaper to produce in Mexico. We
do have a joint venture over there and we do produce the sauce
over there where it is still under the name Melinda. I had trademarked
the name in Mexico.
BELIZEmagazine.com: We understand that your
hot sauces are now also being sold at Wal-Mart stores in the USA.
How did this opportunity come to you?
Marie Sharp: Actually out of the blue. Somebody
called me from the United States and they said that they were
asked to find out about pepper sauce by the name of Marie Sharp.
When he found out he was talking to Marie, he could not believe
it. After he spoke to me he came on the plane and the next day
he was here. He came down and said he had to see if the product
was market ready. He went back and reported. Then I went up and
I spoke to the buyer and he said he knows that the pepper sauce
is very good quality, he's had it himself and he loves it very
much. And they want to carry it in the stores. So that is how
it came about, they came to me.
years I have been fighting to get into the supermarkets in the
United States, unfortunately I could not afford to, because of
shelf spacing. You have to pay to get in, US $ 3.000 per product.
Or free placement: you give them one case of the product. But
it is not like you give them one case, if that chain has 80, 100
stores, than you have to give them a 100 cases of the product
that you want to put on the shelf. But it does not end there,
you have to go in and do demos and cook-ins. It is my responsibility
to move the product. Because if they do not sell at least 15 cases
per month, than it is thrown out, and then you loose everything.
So it very difficult for someone that is not living in the United
States to do something like this. We have always tried just the
gourmet markets and all the other markets that we could get in.
That was our target market, because we could not afford to get
into the supermarkets. Now that they have come to me, I do not
have to pay anything. I think this has really come about because
of the quantity of tourist, the tourist trade has really grown
tremendously in Belize [rem: 15,000 in 1998 to over a million
in 2003] and there is not one person that visits Belize that does
not take something back from Marie Sharp.
BELIZEmagazine.com: How do you do your marketing
nationwide? Your sauces are on every table!
Marie Sharp: We do a lot of marketing by radio, newspapers,
we do food shows, we try to attend all the shows . One of my sons
is in charge of marketing in Belize and I must say that he does
a very good job.
How many children do you have?
Marie Sharp: I have three boys and all of them are in
my business. Actually I have nine children, my husband was married
before, I was married before. I have two boys from my first husband
who died of cancer, with my husband I have one, so that are my
three boys. He had seven children, we lost one to a ruptured appendix,
so they are six. Six and three are nine and I had them all from
when the youngest was three years old and the oldest twelve. I
raised them all like they were my own. Two of them are girls.
The boys are now all married and gone except for my three that
are all working in the business, one is working the marketing
nationwide, and the other two work directly with me in the factory.
One of my boys is living in Los Angeles and a girl in Florida.
Can you tell us a highlight of your personal life?
Marie Sharp: I've twice been recognized - once in Düsseldorf,
Germany, when we went there with a food show, we were given the
20th Golden Award for Food and Beverage in Germany. That was really
one grand moment for me. It made me feel like I'd been really
recognized for all the years I have been working, trying to market
my products so much.
highlight was when I got into the Japanese market. You know the
Japanese are very strict and very quality conscious. So if you
can work with the Japanese I think you have a feather in your
cap. Once you get into the Japanese market and you can work with
them it is a plus sign behind you. So I feel very good that we
had been able to keep our Japanese market, we've been working
with them for about three to four years now and that market has
really expanded. The Japanese have now given us a contract and
they have taken on Korea, Taiwan France, Italy, Australia and
What do you do to keep in shape? What is your favourite past-time
Marie Sharp: To keep in shape you don't have to do any
thing more but staying in this factory as I do. I am here almost
every day and you can see the size of this plant - it is up and
down. Up and down all day. Apart from that, I do a lot of walking
every day; my favourite past time is fishing. I am an avid fisherwoman.
I love fishing, we have our own little island off the mainland
here, so every opportunity we get, we try to go out there.
What is your greatest outdoor adventure ever experienced in Belize?
Marie Sharp: When we were younger of course, my husband
and I used to take a pin and stick it in the map and that is where
we are going to go this summer. We went as far as Quebrado de
Oro, which is almost in Toledo and into the deepest jungle. Qubrado
de Oro means a channel of gold. We found a huge Maya ruin back
there, huge, huge, huge. That was a very good experience. The
rivers are so pretty, it was something unbelievable, you have
to experience it. When we went all the wild life back there, I
guess they have never seen people before, so the wild birds were
just eating on the road and they just flew away when we got near
enough. We also saw Spider monkeys. The rivers had so much mollets,
it was amazing. Very pretty. And we used to sleep anywhere night
caught us, we never had a tent, we just pitched a camp on the
ground and we slept there. We used to do that a lot.
What is your most favourite Belizean food dish? Can you offer
Marie Sharp: Have you every had Cere? Fish cooked in
coconut milk, that's my favourite dish and you eat it with green
plantain. You take a medium size snapper, wash it and clean it
with lime, then you season the fish. What I do, I mix my own seasoning.
I take salt, black pepper, seasonal, a little bit of garlic and
I mix them all up together. And I season my fish. You put that
in a pot and you steam it with a very little bit of water. You
cut onion rings and sweet peppers and put that on top of the fish
and you steam the fish with that. When the fish is almost done,
than you use grated coconut milk that is the cream that you squeeze
from the coconut and you put that on top of the fish. You season
with salt to taste and you just cream the fish with the coconut
milk. It does not take long because it was steamed already. As
you bring that milk up to a boil, you put whole habanero peppers
on top, you don't break them, you just leave them there until
the milk boils. Then it is ready. Separately you cook your green
plantains, you can mix those with some that are almost ripe. You
boil the plantains with a little bit of salt. Then you take them
out of the water and put it in what we call a mater and you beat
it with a stick. You beat it, you sprinkle it with a little bit
of water and you beat it until it gets a smooth consistency like
mashed potatoes. That is eaten along with that fish cere. Very
What is your most favourite locally grown fruit, what the
most favourite vegetable?
Marie Sharp: I love Mangoes; I am not talking about the
exotic mangoes, but the local varieties: number 11, the blue mangoes
the common mangoes. We have one that we call "Chachui",
that is the nicest mango you can ever have. It is a very small
mango and you can pop it into your mouth like a plum. The skin
is very thin, and they are so sweet. They are green, very seldom
they will grow with a little bit of red on it. I love my local
I love all fruit, I also love craboo. A lot of people do not like
craboo, because it is so high in aroma, but I love it. I eat all
the fruits that are grown in Belize like bananas, papayas and
I love all my vegetables except tomatoes. I do not know what it
is but I do not like tomatoes. And this is one of the problems
I have with making any tomato products.
Have you ever had the luck to see any of Belize's exotic wildlife
such as a jaguar, tapir or the like? Have you ever been bitten
by a scorpion, snake or spider?
Marie Sharp: I have seen a jaguar in the wild and tapirs.
On our hunting experiences, we have seen them. We have been chased
by a tapir one time, when the have the young ones, you better
not try getting near them, because they will come at you. They
are very protective of their young. Naturally, that's just instinct.
I don't think I have ever been bitten by a scorpion, snake or
spider. I came close to it with all our wandering in the mountains
and the bush; we have done a lot of bush hunting. We have seen
snakes. One close encounter I had, I was standing under the tree
and the snake was coming down towards my head and my husband said,
"Freeze" and he shot it off on top of my head. But that
was the closest I have ever come to a snake. I am not afraid of
spiders or scorpions. I am afraid of a roach. I do not know what
it is but I cannot stand to see a roach.
How many of the Maya archaeological sites in Belize have you
visited? Which site was the most fascinating for you?
Marie Sharp: I love Caracol. I went there in
2002 so I do not know how far they've gotten now. It is amazing
to see that they had a football field, that they had a water reservoir.
With the excavation that was going on it was amazing to see the
size of it. Sometimes I wonder if that was not the one we came
across on the way to Punta Gorda. I do not know, I could be wrong
because I do not know the geographical location exactly.
have also been to Xunantunich and Altun Ha.
What is the greatest asset of Belize?
Marie Sharp: We have the second largest barrier reef.
Belize is rich because of the barrier reef, it is unique, because
the only other country that has a barrier reef is Australia, which
is the largest. So one of our main attractions to Belize is our
What are the top five books we should all read in our lifetime?
What books are you reading at the moment? Which book do you plan
to buy the next trip to the bookstore?
Marie Sharp: I
used to do a lot of reading but it is put into the background
the more and more I got involved into this business. You must
understand that here, I am chief, cook and bottle washer. I even
sleep and work in my sleep so it is very difficult for me. I got
to the stage where, if I am going to read, I read just nothing
intense. Fiction or non-fiction, it doesn't really matter. I love
court cases, mystery. Right now I am half way into Daniel Steel.
Of course I did all the classics in school, like David Copperfield,
because remember at one time we were more English. I also read
Beka Lamb by Zee Edgell. Zee Edgell was actually one of my classmates;
we went to school together in Belize City at 'Holy Redeemer'.
I have not seen her in a long time, maybe once or twice since
it or not, the book I want to read is the one by Bill Clinton,
so the next time I am going to the States, that is what I am going
BELIZEmagazine.com: Who would be on your
list of favourite Belizean artists, writers and musicians? Who
would be on your list of favourite non-Belizean artists,writers
and musicians? What kind of music do you like to listen to?
Marie Sharp: I like Spanish music, I like the
Mexican style of music, I like more soft music. The artist that
I like locally is Brother David. I also like Lord Rhaburn who
composes a lot of his own songs. He did all those little bushsongs
How would you answer the question "What is Belizean Culture?"
Marie Sharp: We have such a mixed culture. The Creole,
the Spanish, the Garifuna, the Maya, now we have the other cultures,
the Chinese, the East Indians, we have a whole big mixture that
makes up those that are Belizean.
the cover of the Hospital Auxiliaries cook book it is put very
well, they write, "Recipe for Belizeans: 4 Creoles, 1½
Garinagu (Carib), 1 Maya, 2½ Mestizo (Indian & Spanish
Mix) also other nationalities, all sizes, all shapes and shades.
Method: Mix well and bake slowly in a 80 degree sub-tropical sun,
add salt water and let cool in an offshore breeze. The ingredients
blended well but not stirred too much, makes up a population of
260,000 people Belizean."
Belize is so ecologically diverse with natural beauty abundant.
What do you consider the most beautiful spot in all of Belize?
Marie Sharp: I love where my husband was born in Middlesex.
Middlesex is twenty-four miles up the Valley road here, going
towards Belmopan. Right there in the last little village with
little houses, there is a big citrus farm. There is a hill where
they used to live and you can stand on that hill and look down
and you look into that valley that is so beautiful.
What is your favourite vacation spot outside of Belize?
Marie Sharp: My favourite vacations spot? I never take
a vacation now. But I tell you where I'd love to go, I'd love
to visit Greece. I have not been there, but I've been all over.
I'd love to go back to South America to Venezuela. I have been
there once and I would love to go back.
has been very difficult for me to take a holiday, I work for myself,
my husband works for the Citrus Company of Belize. He is supposed
to have been on pension since he was sixty. He is now passed 65
and he is still working. Every time they ask him to stay on a
little bit more, and a little bit more. This year I told him,
"This is it, you quit now". Because we are not getting
any younger! I have never gone on a vacation, because when he
can go I cannot, and when I can he cannot, I so we never go anywhere.
I travel all over the world on business, I have been to Germany,
Taiwan, Tokyo. But it is just for food shows and it is just work,
work, work. I went to Venezuela and Argentina, but alone. After
the work is done I never want to spend a couple of days more there,
because I am alone. You want a companion to be able to appreciate
everything you see.
really would love to go on a cruise through the Greek islands.
What do you consider the biggest challenge for Belize and
Belizeans in the 21st century?
Marie Sharp: To become self-sufficient. In the 21st century
we will be faced with a lot of funding aids that are going to
be taken away from us, in the bananas, in the citrus. With the
globalisation we are going to loose a lot of funding. The British
always carried us with the bananas, and this is going to have
to stop, because everybody is saying you can't do that anymore.
Everybody has to stand on their own legs. It is going to be very
difficult for Belize. I don't know how we are going to accomplish
it, because where we are geographically, we have Mexico in the
north and in the south we have Guatemala and the other Central
American countries, and Belize is more expensive that any of our
neighbours. I every way: for water, for electricity, for labour,
for everything. How can we remain competitive, having both sides
that can undersell us on everything that we? How are we going
to accomplish that? Our electrical rates are tremendously expensive,
our water very expensive, all our utilities, everything. And yet,
we have to fight on the global market to be competitive. Also
our interest rates are so high, they are 14-16%.
be honest with you, I have only gotten that far because I grow
some of everything that I use in my process. We grow some of all
the fruits that we use. I grow carrots, I grow peppers, I grow
tamarind, pineapples, papayas, mangoes, summer ready coconuts.
If I didn't do that to lower my cost to be competitive, how would
I stand out on the international market?
that is something we are going to face, I do not know how we are
going to do it, how we are going to accomplish it, but it has
to be done.
What would you most want someone reading this article to remember
about what Marie Sharp has to say?
Marie Sharp: All this that has happened here really was
beyond my wildest imagination. I have never thought I would have
gotten where I am, because this was not even my line of work,
so all this just happened by chance. I must say that I like cooking,
and that is one of the things that probably started all this.
would like anybody who reads this article to know that starting
your own business is not easy but if you stick in there and work
with it, you'll find a lot of obstacles that can be overcome.
You just have to make sure to stick it and work hard. One of my
goals here all the time and one of my foremost thoughts with every
product that I added to the products that I have, is to make sure,
that I produce quality products. So when somebody tastes it, they
taste it and want to buy it.
people have the idea: If I am going to make this thing to sell,
I am going to try to make it cheap. And then what happens? You
come out with a mediocre product and than it doesn't sell. So
make sure whatever you are producing, you are producing at your
best. Because you have something outstanding in that product and
that is what is going to get you your customers.
to be a success, I think quality, presentation, and of course
you have to be consistent. And as long as you keep those three
things in mind you can't help but become a success.