Hot Squeeze Interview with Sue Sullivan

By on January 11, 2016

Sue Sullivan, the entrepreneur behind Hot Squeeze, shares some of the secrets to her culinary creations.

Who doesn’t love a good sauce? If you’ve ever tried to make your own sauce or rub you know testing and refining the flavor takes a lot of time. Is it too spicy? Is it too salty? Does it improve or detract from the flavor of your grilled, smoked or campfire roasted meal? Finding a good combination of flavors is a huge hurdle in itself. If you want to mass produce your sauce, you have a thousand considerations to navigate before you even begin to think about the process of production. Sue Sullivan, founder of sauce and spice company Hot Squeeze, dealt with those challenges and more when starting her own sauce business, and whether you want to create the perfect dry rub or start your own sauce slingin’ business, she’s got a word of advice for any home grill chef looking to master their own mix.

What is your process when you’re developing a new sauce or rub flavor?

For me, I create sauce flavors and rub flavors in my head first. Certainly this is where the foodie in me excels, as I just internally understand what flavors work together.  Then it is a lot of experimenting at home and having friends try them. If you are asking what is the process of taking the new flavor to market, that involves getting nutritionals and analysis of stability etc.  This can be done through many universities and their food extensions.

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What are three pieces of advice to formulating a sauce recipe?

One thing I would definitely advise is not to use too many ingredients.  The more ingredients, the higher the cost and the harder to source them all.  Also, if using fresh ingredients… like fresh jalapenos –  the flavor will not always be consistent.  You know how some jalapenos are hotter than others?  Consistency is crucial.  This includes flavor, color and consistency, so all of these things should be taken into consideration when coming up with a sauce. The other thing that is important to consider is shelf life. If you use fresh ingredients, and want to keep it all natural, you will need to consider refrigerating. If your sauce is cooked, you again have to consider the PH balance and the acidity levels. (The more acidic, the better at naturally preserving.)  As far as flavor combinations – I think you just have to consider what will taste good to a large audience. You might love anchovies, but 80% of the population may not.  I found this out myself with my Orange Ginger Zing sauce.  I personally love ginger, but was surprised to find that so many people had never tried ginger before, and that ginger is one of those flavors you either love or hate.

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What are some key ingredients for different styles of sauces?

Wow! There are so many different types of sauces: there are your hot sauces that are usually vinegar based, there are tomato-based sauces which run the gamut from bbq to ketchup-y and usually have to be cooked.  There are the oriental sauces with soy or fish-based or fermented. What I look for in a sauce is complexity of flavor.  To me, many times hot sauces are just plain hot but they miss out on all the other layers of flavor.

Do you have advice for the casual backyard chef regarding what types of sauce to pair with different types of meat?

Again, it depends what results you are looking for. I think a good steak needs very little seasoning.  Pork and chicken can handle just about any sauce from bbq, to fruit-based, to oriental. Fish, again depending on what type of fish, needs a sauce a little less cloying!

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What inspired you to start Hot Squeeze, and what motivates you to keep going everyday?

Ha Ha! I actually like to say that my sauce started the company, not the other way around.  I had a catering company for years and I had made my “sweet heat chipotle” glaze for a pork tenderloin dish that I served. Everyone was crazy about the sauce from day one. I had to serve it with every meal (I catered to the film business). For years everyone was on me to bottle my sauce.  I thought they were crazy.  It’s a good question about motivation; when you run your own business you need to find a way to keep motivated. My customers help do that, but it’s also the drive in me to see this through.

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Tell us about the roller coaster your company journey went on from concept to bankruptcy to reality today?

A roller coaster ride is a good way to describe this journey. In the beginning I was so naïve as so many are when they start a food business, but I was also so lucky. My product took off right away. I got distribution really fast and this doesn’t normally happen, especially with one person running the business, with little knowledge and with no money. In the beginning, I was the “golden child” and my product a success but I also remember a person in the industry telling me that your product is only “new” for a short period of time.  In the beginning I was running so fast after the business, I never stopped to consider what was really going on. I also ran through my own savings and so began using a stack of credit cards to run the business. And then the business started not to be as much fun…. I was fighting my distributors for payment, I was losing accounts I had gained because the product wasn’t selling fast enough.  The business affected everything, my marriage, my social life, my mentality and so much more.  I pulled back to save myself, I left my marriage to save myself – I was crumbling but I was not willing to roll-over.  My life and this business are still a challenge but I made the decision to give it one last big push.  This time it means marching forward with a strong business plan, with some major investment money and with a team to help me.

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About Sue Sullivan and Hot Squeeze

Sue Sullivan is an entrepreneur with 14 years of experience in the catering business and 8 years in the specialty food market. She’s also the founder of the totally cool sauce and dry rub company, Hot Squeeze. Oh, and she’s a mom…although she’s yet to be on Oprah (personally, she would prefer to be on Ellen, but if Oprah’s reading this, she’s down). Sue can also cook. And not in the “la-dee-da, I have a frying pan” type of way but in the way that Tom Brady leads receivers during the Super Bowl. In the rare event that you don’t find her managing her business or spitting out gourmet meals, she’s probably hanging out with her pooch best friend, Benson, whose hobbies primarily consist of barking at cars and eating strange objects around the house. You can check out her creations on her website, thehotsqueeze.com, or on the Hot Squeeze Facebook page.

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