LeConte Lodge caretakers coming down from the mountain, entering pepper shake business

After a dozen years as caretakers, the Virdens are leaving LeConte Lodge. The couple, who've cared for hundreds of hikers and campers over the years say it's time for a new adventure.
After a dozen years as caretakers, the Virdens are leaving LeConte Lodge. The couple, who've cared for hundreds of hikers and campers over the years say it's time for a new adventure.

MT. LECONTE (WATE) – They met on the Appalachian Trail in 2000, and for the past 12 years have been the smiling faces seen by those who hike and stay on Mt. Leconte.

Now Allyson and Chris Virden say it’s time for a change, and they’re hoping a new product they’ve come up with will be the ticket down the mountain.

Slideshow: Olde Virden’s Red Hot Sprinkle

After a dozen years as caretakers, the Virdens are leaving LeConte Lodge. The couple, who’ve cared for hundreds of hikers and campers over the years say it’s time for a new adventure.

“For 12 years its been the perfect job. I mean, who doesn’t want to live on the third highest mountain in the Smoky Mountains,” said Allyson.

Part of the couple’s duties on the mountain included meals. Chris cooked breakfast while Allyson provided the lunch and dinners. The two obviously know their way around food.

It seemed they were exactly where they should be.

“But after 12 years up there, we kind of realizes that there’s a lot of things down below that we miss – indoor plumbing, electricity, that kind of stuff. But I’m excited about being down below,” said Chris.

Part of the excitement is an idea Chris came up with last winter after realizing while there were plenty of hot sauces on the market, except for red pepper flakes, there wasn’t much in the way of shakes.

LeConte Lodge caretakers coming down from the mountain, entering pepper shake business

So the couple developed Olde Virden’s Red Hot Sprinkle, a mixture of serrano, jalapeno, Thai chili and habaneros peppers.

“It’s got the heat people like from hot sauce, but it’s also got all the flavor of the peppers without all the additives,” said Chris.

The Virdens have just recently completed an addition to their home: a stand-alone building housing several dehydrators. A reconstituted coffee grinder grinds down the dried peppers leaving a powder, which is then blended into Olde Virden’s.

“I’m not a fan of really hot food. I like flavor and that’s key for me. So when Chris started experimenting, he kept that in mind,” said Allyson.

LeConte Lodge caretakers coming down from the mountain, entering pepper shake business

Chris says on a 10 point scale, the heat in his sprinkle is a six. He describes it as earthy. He believes it enhances the taste of all kinds of foods, from pizzas to soups to deviled eggs.

“I really think that there is a market for this type of product that no one else is doing,” said Chris.

“Our goal is for it to be everywhere,” said Allyson.

The Virdens’ time on Mount LeConte ends in November. Then, they say, they will begin in earnest to make their goal a reality.

More online: Olde Virden’s Red Hot Sprinkle

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