Casa Firelli Hot Sauce Sauce, a product from Montclairian Elwyn Gladstone’s company, is ready to use on pizza, pasta or as a seasoning.
(Courtesy Elwyn Gladstone)

By ROBIN WOODS
For Montclair Local

It’s summertime, my favorite time of the year — warm hands, warm feet and a warm glow on my face and arms from being outside in the sun as often as possible. I won’t be traveling this year, but I discovered new businesses and products distributed right here in town that warm my heart and my taste buds.

I chatted with Elwyn Gladstone, founder and owner of biggarandleith.com, which owns and imports a portfolio of spirits and fancy foods from family-owned producers. He and his business partner, Mark Teasdale, create brands and find interesting companies to make them. Their office is located on Plymouth Street, where the magic begins, with Gladstone saying, “We each do things well, differently.”

Gladstone has lived in many places in his life, born in Boston and moving to England with his parents when he was 8 years old. He then went on to attend the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and earned a winemaking degree from the University of California, Davis. If that’s not enough travel for you, he worked for William Grant & Sons, a Scottish company and whiskey distillery.

He set up Biggar and Leith in 2015, focusing on marketing innovations and new products. I asked Gladstone how he came up with the idea of an Italian hot sauce, and he said, “A lot of Americans use hot sauce on pizza, and we decided to create a special hot sauce for pizza, but not restricted to that use alone. The flavor is very Italian, very mild, wildly acceptable and enjoyable.”

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A recent product launch is Casa Firelli Hot Sauce, manufactured in Parma, Italy. It is sold locally in ShopRite and Kings supermarkets in Montclair. Many of us are familiar with hot sauces from Louisiana, Asia and Trinidad and Tobago, but Italian hot sauce was new to me. 

The ingredients are simple: roasted red peppers, balsamic vinegar, apple vinegar, lemon juice, Calabrian hot peppers, dried porcini mushrooms and lemon juice. It’s gluten-free, vegan and has zero calories. 

Casa Firelli Hot Sauce won’t burn the inside of your mouth or make your head explode. The porcini mushrooms add umami, which is one of the five basic tastes. Umami means “essence of deliciousness” in Japanese, and my years of watching cooking shows have finally paid off.

Gladstone lives in the Anderson Park section of town with his family, choosing Montclair because of its beautiful parks and proximity to N.Y.C. and Newark Airport, since he travels extensively around the world for business. I couldn’t resist asking him what his favorite food was, and he said, “I like pizza.” Better after hot sauce, I bet.

Robin Woods speaks with Mohamed Dandash at Serket Pharmacy on Church Street. (COURTESY ROBIN WOODS)

I also visited with Mohamed Dandash, owner of Serket Pharmacy, 8 Church St. Born in Egypt, he named the pharmacy after Serket, the ancient Egyptian goddess of medicine and healing. Serket is often shown with a scorpion on her crown, and she holds the ankh, the symbol of life, in one hand and a scepter portraying power in the other.

Dandash was ready to open his small independent pharmacy more than six months ago, but the pandemic caused a delay until July 6. An official grand opening ceremony to welcome new customers and offer tours of the pharmacy was held on July 23.

He came to the United States when he was 15, living in the New Jersey and Pennsylvania areas, and returned to Egypt to attend Misr International University in Cairo, studying there and earning a bachelor of pharmaceutical sciences degree.

Dandash received his pharmacist license in 2010. “I am interested in helping people and being involved with them,” he said. “Pharmacy has wider doors than a medical career does, allowing me to spend more time with people who can literally just open the door and walk into the pharmacy without an appointment.” 

It was important to him to have an independent pharmacy and not be part of a huge national chain.

Serket Pharmacy is a family project, with his wife Emma Dandash handling the design and branding of the business. Emma is an art teacher in Livingston, teaching elementary school students. She drew the beautiful illustrations of herbs and plants that hang on the wall as you walk in, focusing on the natural and homeopathic theme of the pharmacy. Her brother-in-law Cami, an architect, drew and submitted the plans for approval in Montclair, turning what used to be a tile shop into the business it is now.

Until he gets Medicaid and additional health plan approvals, Dandash accepts CareMark, WellCare, Humana, Medicare Parts B and D, and BeneCard, saying,”The rest are coming very soon.” He is very careful to stock mostly homeopathic and all-natural products made from plant derivatives, such as the Boiron brand.

You can have your prescriptions filled there, and pick up organic juices, kombucha and a variety of herbal teas from the cooler at the front. Snacks are available, made by Forager, in varieties of crunchy nut and vegetable crisps, nothing fried or greasy.

It’s an instinctive part of Dandash’s lifestyle to eat healthy and promote wellness. While he waits to receive his first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines, he can dispense DPT, flu, pneumonia and shingles vaccines. He’s in the pharmacy six days a week on his own for now, and uses his only day off on Sunday to cook Egyptian and Middle Eastern food and play with Sophie, his German shepherd mix. He’s dedicated and intense, reminding me, “You gotta love it to do it.”

It was a pleasure to meet and interview two interesting men with big ideas and hearts for this column and learn more about different cultures and different products and services.

Emma and Mohamed Dandash at the grand opening this summer of Serket Pharmacy on Church Street. (COURTESY ROBIN WOODS)

In this column:

Robin Woods is a local girl-about-town, writing about activities, stores, restaurants and interesting people that catch her eye. She’s written memoirs and personal essays, as well as music and fashion columns for various New York City newspapers. Her writing awards include the Shirley Chisholm Award for Journalism and the Director’s Award for Essex County Legacies Essay contest.