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November 16, 2012

Entrepreneur Spotlight – Spicy n’ Sweet

spicy n' sweet logoThe whole ‘locally-sourced, made-by-hand’ movement might be taking the US by storm but the truth of the matter is that that’s the way the old cultures – those countries like Italy and France who’s food we always swoon over – have been doing it for years.  The trio behind Spicy n’ Sweet based in Long Island City, New York stayed true to that heritage have have created a line of tomato sauces that has people talking.

How did the three of you originally meet?

Nonna Carolina (aka Carolina Marino) is my mother and Jorge Moret is my life-partner. We’re a modern family business!

What were each of you doing professionally prior to making this leap over to food entrepreneurship.  What inspired you to make the switch? spicy n' sweet

I was working in interior design, Jorge was working in advertising as an art director, and Carolina was working as a professional cook in a NYC restaurant. But all 3 of us wanted something new. Something to call our own and have full creative license.  Jorge and I also understood my mom’s cooking is truly exceptional and her creativity in the kitchen is that of an artist. Call it fate, but one day it all just clicked.

At what point was the decision made to turn the sauces into a business?

Around the time my mom had enough of the restaurant business and Jorge and I were now part-time due to the economy taking an unfortunate turn. We felt we needed to use our creativity and our love of great food for a better cause. Her rustic style and genius recipes inspired us to embrace all our talents and work together to make amazing, real food, with a distinctive visual sense. The sauces are just a start.

How long did it take you to go from concept to actually starting to sell the products?  Did you do things like write a business plan or did you run into permitting issues? 

Several months or so. Both me and Jorge come from visual backgrounds and are both very visual people so we knew the image we wanted right from the very beginning. But we also understand our products have to appeal to a wider audience other than ourselves.  So, we went out to get feedback, and through trial and error by asking friends, family and the general public by sampling at small, local markets (before actually selling) what they thought about our products, quality of ingredients, design, price, etc. It definitely worked to our advantage. We didn’t know anything about running a food business, but Nonna does. She was a business owner herself years ago in the beauty/spa industry and she has recent experience working in a restaurant which helped a lot! However, none of us knew about starting a food manufacturing business at all. So with help from NYC Small Business Services we started writing our business plan, and joining a local incubator really helped us get all the necessary paper work, permits, licenses, red tape, etc. out of the way and into the kitchen to start producing. Thank you E-Space!

As a relatively young business, you’ve had great success getting into a variety of high-end grocery stores.  How did you start cultivating those relationships with buyers?

Through food markets and networking honestly. The food community in NYC is still fairly small and everyone pretty much knows (of ) everyone. Once making that initial sale to a great store it’s all thrills and excitement but now the real work begins and that’s how to actually sustain that relationship. I have to say we’ve been pretty lucky and have had the fortunate pleasure of dealing with savvy buyers out there who recognize exactly what we’re doing and hope that this relationship continues through being honest about our brand & mission as a growing food company.

People on Facebook are raving about your products.  Any chance you’ll be able to be found by West Coast foodies in the near future?

I hope we find more, absolutely! Right now, we do have a small following on the west coast thanks to Dean & DeLuca St. Helena carrying us. We’re also talking to stores in Seattle right now too so who knows what the future will bring. We’re definitely very excited to find out!

Now that the business has been in operation for just over a year what would you say has been one of the smartest business decisions you made during your first year?  What about the biggest mistake?

Honestly, the smartest has been getting involved with local NYC food markets. It’s a great platform for anyone who is starting a food manufacturing business. Instead of seeking out who’s buying for who, where to find these buyers, how to get these buyers interested in our product, the interest finds you at your stall selling, sampling, talking up a storm. I mean, what better way to find out about a product than by actually meeting the maker behind the brand when they’re working their magic? There are food makers selling their own products (that they make with their own hands) all over NYC! —Biggest mistake? Not starting the company sooner!

Having two or more people working together on a business can be both an asset and a liability.  Do your different skills and personalities balance out well when it comes to running the business?  Any words of advice for other partnerships?

The power of 3 just works for us. Our personalities range from shockingly spicy to strikingly sweet (hence, the name of our company!) Are there obstacles? I’m working with my life-partner and mother. Fuck yeah, there are tons of obstacles, but the beauty of working with family is that you always work it out at the end of the day & you respect each other (most importantly). No matter what the issue! My advice to anyone who wants to start a partnership, is make sure that everyone on your team is fully committed, and brings something different to the table. That way, all corners are covered and everyone knows what their responsibility is going forward. So if the plan is to grow, then be prepared and go in knowing exactly what you’re good at and own it!

To see if you can purchase Spicy n’ Sweet’s goods in a store near you check out their store locator.  They also have a few online retail partners (scroll to the bottom of the store locator page) in case you don’t have a brick-and-morter nearby and want to give their sauces a try!

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