July 15, 2019
Brian Voerding of Engage Winona on community building
“To be able to do what we like, have fun doing it, and get paid to do it is the greatest feeling in the world.”
Back in 2011, I received the wrong type of peppers from our produce supplier — I received habaneros instead of jalapenos. At the time I was working in French-style cuisine and habaneros are too hot to use in that type of food, so I pickled the peppers for a later use. On a slow service night I threw some ingredients together, along with pickled peppers, to make a hot sauce for the pizzas I was making for staff meal. The “eureka” moment came when I realized that the staff had consumed a half of a gallon of the sauce in just a week! That’s when I knew I had to re-make it.
The way we are received by the community is unreal. From a product standpoint, we are the only company making hot sauce by pickling the peppers. Because no heat ever touches the product you’re left with a fresh and bright flavor profile that has not only heat but great flavor. The very best part of starting this company is that it has given me a chance to spend more time with my son.
My son Craig Jr., or “Cry Baby Craig,” has been my inspiration and has been with me since the beginning — after all, it is named after him. This was my chance to get back some of my life and stop working 80-hour weeks. The love that goes into each bottle, and the love that is shown when the two of us do deliveries, is contagious.
The first restaurant I sold Cry Baby Craig’s to was Tilia, in Linden Hills. At the time the label was simply an address label that read “Craig Kaiser” along with my telephone number. When they ordered again the following week, I realized I needed to brand the sauce. At that time, Jr. was only four weeks old and his mom and I were brainstorming stupid names when Jr. woke from his nap — crying. That’s when it came to me, “Cry Baby Craig’s!” I told his mom that we should name it after him and hope that it starts paying for diapers.
So now we have a name, but we still have no logo on the bottle. One day I was next door at Settergren’s Ace Hardware getting something for the restaurant when one of the employees overhead me speaking about the hot sauce. He told me he loved hot sauce, so when I gave him the bottle and he noticed it had no branding he asked if he could do a label for me. The first one he did was kind of the classic southwest theme — skulls and crossbones — but it just didn’t seem right. I told him that it was a no-go. He asked me what I wanted and I told him I wasn’t sure but wanted something unique – I didn’t want anything that the market already has thousands of. The next day he came to the restaurant and asked if he could take my picture. I hesitated but went along with it. Later that night he emailed me what is now the logo on the bottle, including the handmade lettering.
This company has always been family and fun first. This was my chance to get back the time I was missing out on with my son while doing something that I love. As we have grown, we have only embraced this motto even more. To be able to do what we like, have fun doing it, and get paid to do it is the greatest feeling in the world. It’s contagious! Not only do we feel it, but you can tell that the joy we feel is projected out into the world and others feel it as well.
Some of the biggest challenges have been figuring out how to get produce on a scale that no one else in town is doing. Every day we are adapting to the needs of the business. Larger companies are really starting to notice us, but we are small enough that they may be hesitant to work with us. So far though we are batting a thousand when it comes to fulfilling all orders.
This company has opened so many doors. The freedom to go anywhere, at any time, to share our sauce and our story with everyone is amazing! The support from the community is overwhelming. People take time to call, message or email their love and support for what it is that we are doing. Let’s be real: we make hot sauce. But if you were to see the way people talk to us about how much they love what we do you would understand how overwhelmingly beautiful this is. I may never get used to this, but I sure as hell will spend the rest of my life trying.
I’d say never give up, never settle, never go down someone else’s path. The FDA told me that we couldn’t make a product without cooking and pasteurizing it. I asked them why and they said because no one is doing it. That wasn’t good enough for me, so we set out to prove to ourselves – and to them – that we could. It took almost two years of field studies, but we are now the only company in the country making a product this way. Never settle. Just because they are bigger than you doesn’t mean they are right. If you believe in yourself and your product, then it’s worth fighting for. At the end of the day, we are trailblazers, and the consumer is benefiting from it by getting the best made product on the market.
When it comes to new partners, we are open to anyone that truly understands a hand-crafted product. We have been fortunate to have had so much excitement and passion for what we do. Everyone that has reached out to carry our product is excited to carry it, which translates into sales. If they didn’t care about it they wouldn’t push it.
The world! With a cult following and endless possibilities, there really isn’t much we can’t do. We’ve been approached by Jack Link’s Beef Jerky, liquor companies to make Bloody Mary mixes, snack companies, and countless restaurants to do custom food menu items. The future is bright. It’s an amazing feeling to be a part of a brand that is so much more than just a hot sauce. It’s a way of life.