We had the good fortune of connecting with Daniel Urbaetis and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Daniel, what do you attribute your success to?
The very most important factors behind the success of the AWESOME Hot Sauce product line & store are a Flavor-First approach, a Micro-batch production model, Direct Involvement, Passion & Priorities, and that encompasses other attributes and characteristics as well. I set out to make hot sauces that I liked, that I could be excited about. Enthusiasm and confidence are paramount to performance. And I want them to TASTE AWESOME. In my experience, manufacturers are rarely chefs. They’re basically mixers of things. That’s pretty evident when you sample a super hot mainstream sauce and it tastes more like a chemical solvent than it does food. Since Day 1, over 7 years ago, my goal has been to make the highest quality products with the highest quality, freshest ingredients. My work ethic puts the focus on my performance, with only indirect thought to profit. I want patrons to taste the hard work, high quality, and attention to detail, along with the exceptional recipe. I want them to taste the care and personal investment made in creating a superior product. To accomplish that, it requires the purest effort, and no corner cutting synonymous with large scale productions. Basically it takes focus and energy. I make everything in controlled, tiny, micro-batch amounts, so small they could be considered nano-batches in comparison to the national brand sauces. This is important when t comes to quality. The production is so small, that it’s just as if each sauce was personally made for each customer. Instead of making a ton of sauce 4 months out of the year and then warehousing it like the rooster sauce, we operate on Live Inventory, meaning no backstock, and continuous weekly, if not daily production. The fact that I have, and always will be the one making every drop of AWESOME Hot Sauce personally, what I produce has by default passed the highest standards of AWESOMENESS. Having grown up in my parent’s Italian restaurant in Upstate NY, surrounded by a loving family of some of the very best cooks on the planet, I saw the magic they created. My mother and grandmother were supernaturally gifted in the kitchen. I was fortunate to have a nice family, and to see them all working on a common task with love and talent. I hold up myself to that level of quality because I’m always trying to do them proud, and capture some of that old feeling of magic for my customers. My grandmother isn’t here anymore, but I speak with her always without ever saying a word. I have a direct connection, a vested interest in, and control over the product quality. Just like my father told me, “Your work ethic is direct reflection of your character.” Work is an opportunity to show others what you’re worth, and I seize that opportunity vigor. If you are going to do any activity, go into it with everything you’ve got. Strive to be your personal best at whatever activity you engage in. My Dad also told me “NO Job is beneath you.” I have also heard neo-Platonists phrase it as “If you think you’re too good for a task, the opposite is true.” I was stacking hay at a farm job I had at age 13, I’ve mopped many floors, including professionally as a Coast Guard, ha ha. Whatever I do I put my all into it. Making AWESOME Hot Sauce gives others a taste of the output of that determination. It’s very sad, but big industry products are made with little care, and they cut cost everywhere they can by cutting the quality of what goes into their products as low as they can get away with. If you knew that stems, rotten produce, and other waste made it into the national brand sauce you eat, you would certainly come to appreciate the difference a small, controlled production offers. Being able to hand cut, hand whisk, and hand select each and every ingredient to assure freshness, and the fact that I was raised by some of the most loving, caring, and honest cooks in the universe has made AWESOME Hot Sauce the success it is. We have endured, and are enduring some tough times, but the out-pour of lovely messages from our patrons has been truly beautiful. If we were just some impersonal company, they probably wouldn’t have brought us this far. Their support and enthusiasm is a direct result of making an honest to goodness gourmet quality product line. We focused on the product. I said, “How much can I give my customers?,” If you make a quality product it markets itself. If you share samples, it sells itself. Investing in the product itself, first and foremost, and always working to continue perfecting that thing we do is the most distinctive quality of AWESOME Hot Sauce.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Semper Fry, LLC is my business name, and it’s really just me. I’m the sole proprietor. My wife Rebecca and I do the work of a small army each day. We have one employee at present, because things are a little weird, but usually we employ 2-3 people to help us at the store while Rebecca and I focus on production and satisfying internet orders. Lately, I’ve been trekking out 3 hours one-way to the store 2x a week to cover shifts open-to-close, in addition to my other production responsibilities. AWESOME Hot Sauce is the product line. It’s also the name of our store. Rebecca and I both agree that what we’re most proud of is our daughter. That may not seem related to the business, but our daughter was born exactly One Year to-the-day that we had first entered our store as the new owners. She was born on the store’s anniversary. If it weren’t for the store, we wouldn’t have felt it responsible to bring a life into the world. We only did so because the store was providing for us even better than the farmers markets had previously. That store is why we have our beautiful, smart, athletic, Awesome 4 year old daughter. This isn’t just a business to us. Our heart and soul are indistinguishable from it. There’s magic within the walls just like there was when my family was operating the restaurant in NY. The question asks how we got here. My best answer: I finally made a choice as to what I wanted out of life, and I pursued it. Rebecca and I made a great team. We have good energy. I think people were drawn to that even before sampling the hot sauces. If I was giving advice, I’d say stay genuine. It’s not trying too hard that does it. It’s being real and kind to others that people respond to. Sometimes you might be the one person all that day that smiles and is polite to to a person. It often only takes one act of sincere kindness to pull people out of negative thoughts. We were offered a once in a lifetime opportunity with that storefront. It’s unheard of. Most people in the plaza have been there 30 or 40 years. No one gives up those spots. And they don’t normally come asking you if you want them. It’s usually the other way around. Something on a higher plane of reality was seemingly pushing for us to succeed. We remain as pure as the day we began. I didn’t outsource the sauce making work and kick my feet up. I didn’t license out the recipes to the handful of manufacturers that produce ALL the sauce brands you see in stores. That’s right. If you want to sell nationally, you’re pretty much forced to hand over production to a third party whose facility also produces all your rivals’ hot sauces too. For now, I’m content being an exclusive product available at our store and our website only. I don’t need to be in every store across the country. Quality is always the first thing that suffers in an effort to mass produce a product. I’m not materialistic, nor am I greedy. I like my beaten up old Astro van.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I would take, say my brother or my parents to the restaurant Sardinia not far from where my store is located. I would take them top rope rappelling at Mission Gorge, and we’d hike Iron Mountain. There’s wild sage along the trail there. I haven’t drank in over 5 years, but I would take them to Orfila Winery because in my opinion it’s the very best in the area. I actually had my very first experience as a vendor there at Orfila. They had an event and I got in to represent my hot sauce. I had a lot to learn still, ha ha. I hadn’t even met Rebecca yet. I would of course, and have taken them, to Old Town San Diego and Fiesta de Reyes. I’d also take them out to Temecula to explore the Old Town out that way as well.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My Grandmother Angela, my Grandfather, my AWESOME life partner Rebecca, and the people of Fiesta de Reyes who offered us an opportunity that changed our lives. They took a chance on two unknowns when they let us take over a storefront in their network of businesses in Old Town San Diego. We continue to work each day to earn such an amazing gift. Thank you Old Town Family Hospitality Corp.