By Natalie Monroe
Epitome, lucidity, and frenzy.
These are the spices that color Dennis Pruszka’s world.
In 2006 Dennis and his wife started planting peppers for their garden. With leftovers on hand, he dehydrated a portion and ground the peppers into powder for seasoning. Before long, Dennis was met with encouragement from friends who urged him to sell his new product.
But before all this came a decades long military career. Dennis initially served in the Wisconsin National Guard, 229th Engineer Detachment in Platteville, Wisconsin and the 829 Engineers in Richland Center, Wisconsin, spending 12 years in construction engineering. He deployed as part of Desert Shield and Desert Storm before transferring to the Air Force Reserve (440th Airlift Wing) in Milwaukee. This led to additional deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
“My military career was a means to overcome adversity, accept challenges, make a difference, prove to my mom dad and brother I had it in me to serve my country and finally follow through with something. I made a bunch of good friends, many of whom I still keep in touch with.”
He retired after 23 years of service.
At home in Wisconsin, Dennis enjoyed gardening as a side hobby to his job at the Mitchell International Airport, and liked growing basic peppers. “I grew my garden and it evolved.” With inspiration from his wife, daughter, and close friends, and in a nod to the location where the peppers were being grown, Doorstep Peppers made its entrance into the Milwaukee community.
Dennis grows roughly 200 pepper plants in pots. He turns his nontraditional hot peppers into a line of chile pepper based seasoning blends. All are original creations. Eight of the ten blends are salt free. “You’re supposed to taste flavor and then get heat on the back end,” acknowledges the veteran, who aims for a broad spectrum of heat. “I don’t want it to punch you in the face!”
A friend of his who is a retired art teacher, Jean, helped with the logo design. They joke that “the one in the upper right step looks like [me]”.
Adding to Dennis’ line-up are favorites like Jalapeño Lime, “HEY-JERK”, and Meat Therapy. JET-BLAST- a blend of hot chile peppers with ghost peppers as the mildest of the mix – is “kinda like the feeling from the Air Force”. It’s a creative combination of flavor and heat.
As he lands placements in local retail establishments, Dennis keeps the craft personalized. “They’re hand-crafted seasoning blends and unique in that you’re not getting a lot of fluff with it; you’re getting flavor, chili peppers, herb sand spices,” he shares. “They’re literally all done one at a time. It’s a primitive method of doing it but the best way to ensure freshness.”
Dennis is an avid proponent of trying blends “outside the box”, and he encourages it all: seasoning scrambled eggs and pizza with Frenzy, adding Meat Therapy to French fries and roasted potatoes, flavoring lentils with George’s Spice #2, and even tossing the Jalapeño Lime straight onto popcorn. Lucidity and Epitome mixed together with mayonnaise makes for a superb sandwich spread.
In April 2021, Dennis debuted his latest creation. “People are always interested in a new twist on an old favorite, so this one is on the order of the ‘everything bagel’ but with no salt and added chile peppers,” he chuckles with amazement. “I’m calling it ‘ALL THAT’. Just because it is.”
All seasonings are kosher certified: the entire business operation, the facility where he mixes and bottles, and all ingredients are certified by the kosher guidelines.
As he journeys forward, Dennis credits the support from family, friends – especially Chris from Mama’s Boy Salsa and David from The Soup Market – and “also very importantly people like FVC that believe in ‘the little guy’. [They] make everything fall into place and make my business a success.” His adds the exclamation point: “I’m not getting rich but the rewards that come from doing what I do are priceless!”