Virginia Living Loves the Tongue Tiger

June 2014 | Virginia Living

A crazy mouth party. A ride on the tongue tiger. An exotic hot topping. That’s how John Mills, owner and creative strategist of Richmond branding company Release the Hounds and co-creator of the utterly unclassifiable (and addictive) Crunch Dynasty, describes his product, lately arrived on shelves at Whole Foods in Richmond.

Asian-inspired, crunchy, piquant and homemade, every batch blends garlic, shallots, soy sauce, sesame seeds, hot peppers and a lifetime of know-how from its originator, Shiu-Min Block, Mills’ mother-in-law. The Chinese-born chef has been perfecting the family favorite and dinner table staple “forever”, says Mills. (It goes on everything from popcorn to salad and chicken, even ice cream, if you dare.)

“It’s fun for my wife and my father-in-law to see this thing manifest itself into a real brand” after so many years of friends and relatives clamoring for it, says Mills, a Hampden-Sydney grad who met his wife in New York where he lived for about 10 years before the couple settled in Richmond. (Thanksgiving guests at the Blocks’ don’t want to take home leftover turkety; they ask to go home with “crunchy hot sauce” instead. It’s that good.) 

It took about eight months of teaching and trial and error, says the 43-year-old Mills, before Shiu-Min thought that he and his wife, Anya, could make it properly. The family began selling online and in Richmond specialty market Yellow Umbrella Provisions in February 2013. They expect to expand to a number of other area makrets in addition to Whole Foods. 

“So many people try to sell us, you know, hummus,” says a rep from Whole Foods, “but this is something completely unique.”

Says Mills, “Friends will tell you they like your cooking, but it’s cool to see other people get interested.”

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