The smoky scent of Kris Young’s freshly roasted green chiles, bell peppers, tomatoes, and garlic wafts through the air. “The smell is like free advertisement,” Young says with a chuckle. Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the man with the bright red beard can be found at Heirloom Farmers’ Markets, churning several varieties of fresh produce in a chile roaster. His beard and a large banner display the name of his business loud and clear: Red’s Roasters.
Although Young has owned Red’s Roasters since 2014, he’s been in the business of food for most of his career. The Rincon High School alum began working at Tucson grocery stores at 16. He became a produce manager for Bashas’, where he learned skills in distribution, customer service, and leadership, and met Bob Cocuzza, the owner of Bob’s Honeybee Roasters. After buying a few cases of produce from Young, Cocuzza asked for his help roasting vegetables for the St. Philip’s Plaza Farmers’ Market every Sunday. The rest, as they say, is history.
For five years, Cocuzza taught Young how to roast a variety of fresh produce, from popular Hatch green chiles to red Roma tomatoes. When Cocuzza became terminally ill in 2014, Young decided to buy the business. He purchased Cocuzza’s chile roasters and truck, agreed to pay his mentor’s family 10 percent of his earnings for the first two years, and legally changed the name of the business to Red’s Roasters.
Loyal customers of Bob’s Honeybee Roasters recognized Young from the many years he had spent helping Cocuzza and continued to support the newly named business. “Those first few months … the customers showed me I could do this,” he said. Young also developed a desire to provide “a local service for local people.” Although not all of the bell peppers, Poblano peppers, garlic, green chiles, eggplants, onions, Anaheim peppers, and squash that Young roasts are grown in Arizona, he tries to source as much as possible from local farms like Larry’s Veggies, Richcrest Farms, and Sleeping Frog Farms. Signs labeled “Arizona Grown” highlight locally sourced produce at Red’s Roasters. While there’s a high demand for local produce, it’s Young’s Hatch green chiles that fly off the farmers’ market stand.
Hatch green chiles are available for a limited season: Red’s Roasters carries them in July and August, months when Young’s product and sales increase by about 50 percent. Customers can buy quart- ($5) or gallon- ($12) size bags of roasted Hatch green chiles, but devoted fans of the New Mexico chiles prefer the 30-pound bags offered seasonally. Young recommends that customers who want to reserve large quantities of Hatch green chiles order the goods one week in advance.
A few hectic Hatch green chile seasons have taught the relatively new business owner a lot. As his goals for Red’s Roasters become more realistic, Young said, he wants to “continue doing what I’m doing, please my customers, and grow with my community.”