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I'm Not a Hot Sauce Person - Our Business Story (So Far)

Hi. My name is Lisa, owner of Hammajack Foods LLC, aka "Hammajack Hot Sauce"and, I'm actually not a hot sauce person. At least I wasn't, until after my husband and I started a hot sauce business. Then I thought it might be a good idea if I actually started using hot sauce. I mean, how could I expect to sell a food that I don't even eat??

My husband, Frank, started making hot sauce maybe 6 years ago. A good friend grew a bunch of cayenne peppers in his garden and asked Frank if he wanted any. Frank had been toying with the idea of making his own hot sauce. He loved trying different sauces. On vacation, one of his destinations would always be to find local hot sauces to try. So he decided to give it a go at making his own with some of his friend's peppers. He spent many hours on the computer researching the best methods and the best ingredients. It was definitely a passion project which he loved. Each pepper season thereafter, he would tweak the recipe to improve it. He started sharing with friends and family. Hot sauce became an annual holiday gift to them.

Those friends and family would go on about how delicious Frank's sauce was. Many of them would say the same thing: "you should sell this stuff!" To Frank, the idea of making a business out of his passion for hot sauce seemed naive and implausible. I wasn't so sure about that. After all, we had converted another passion of his into a business. We started our own tile installation company in 2010 which we changed into a complete bathroom remodeling business only a couple of years later. And hot sauce seemed so much more fun! Sure, I didn't eat much hot sauce, but my creative side was inspired by the possibilities of marketing and advertising such a fun product! Plus, there wasn't much financial risk involved in just testing it out. So we made a few small equipment purchases, threw together a quick, fun label and started selling to some friends and their friends. And of course I threw together a quick website and Facebook Page. But selling a few bottles to friends is no indication of how well you can do in business.

If we were going to try to make this real, we would have to make a more serious investment. We would have to get legal by obtaining the proper permits for a food manufacturer. And we couldn't get that while making sauce out of our kitchen....especially the kitchen that we share with multiple cats and a dog! We would have to find a commercial kitchen. (We'd also have to purchase liability insurance coverage, pay for the permitting process, get more equipment and scale up to make the commercial kitchen rent worth it!)

We weren't too keen on the idea of working in a commercial kitchen. Not to mention - suitable kitchens for very small start-up businesses are nearly non-existent in our area. But we searched, perhaps half-heartedly, off and on over the period of about a year. Then everything changed when we were introduced to a local shared incubator-type kitchen. This kitchen had only opened less than two years before we visited for the first time. The atmosphere was very appealing to both Frank and I when we visited. As a bonus, there was attractive shared office spaced attached to the kitchen, which would be included in our rent. We were eager to start paying the monthly rent (that we couldn't really afford) and get started! Now we would have a financial motivation to get serious about this hot sauce business (so we could pay the kitchen rent & new expenses that came along with it!)

Not only is this kitchen tolerable. We actually enjoy working there. The unexpected additional benefit is getting to work next to other entrepreneurs in the food industry who also use the kitchen space. What we thought would be a drawback (needing to share the kitchen space with others) turned out to be one of the biggest upsides. We could have never anticipated the inspiration that we get from our co-tenants!

We literally only got our Permit about 3 months ago! So we are still VERY MUCH at the beginning of this adventure. But we have had some very good experiences and excellent feedback (from real, paying customers who don't even know us!). Oh, and along the way, I have started using hot sauce almost daily. After all, how else can I effectively develop recipes of how to utilize our sauces to post on Instagram for our followers?! It will be interesting to see how well we grow.

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