An Interview with Michael Greening of Ring of Fire Hot Sauce
For how long have you been making hot sauce?
We started our company in 1992 making herbed wine vinegars. We started making Ring of Fire in 1994.
What are your most popular products?
Our most popular sauce is still the Original Habanero Hot Sauce which was our first flavor. It still amazes me that the first sauce we created, when I knew nothing about making hot sauce is still #1. I guess it really is better to be lucky than good.
How did you get started making hot sauce?
While on vacation in Sedona with my wife Diane (then my fiancée), my sister and her boyfriend, we stumbled into a store that only sold hot sauces. I had no idea that such a store even existed. I wasn’t into spicy food at all by my sister's boyfriend is one of the true fire eaters, where nothing is too hot. We bought the ones they said were the best and just had to have. It wasn’t until I cooked lunch with them the next day that we bought the ones they find easy to sell and made a good profit on, definitely not the best. If they were the best, the world of hot sauces needed some serious help because I thought they were terrible. I kept ranting about how bad they were and that I could make better so finally Barry said that I should either put up ur shut up. That was the white glove slap across the face that I needed. When we got home I spent 3 days making sauce until I achieved what I wanted, which was a complex sauce, rich in flavor, lots of texture and enough heat to let you know that it was there. I wasn’t after making a sauce that was all heat and no flavor because I want to enjoy my food, every bite of it.
When did you go commercial?
The sauce was created with the intent of being sold commercially. It wasn’t a family recipe that I took to market or anything like that. From the initial idea to the final recipe, it was designed for retail sale.
How many bottles of hot sauce do you produce a year?
Not as many as some might believe and not as many as some other companies do, but also more than some other companies do. I will say this. We do have our own manufacturing facility and making Ring of Fire is what my wife and I do full time (and then some) to make our living. Her parents also help us a few days per week and we are going to be hiring a part time employee very soon.
Do you have a preferred chili pepper as an ingredient?
Fresh Habanero Chiles are the main pepper that we use as well as Serrano Chiles.
Aside from chili peppers, what do you feel is the key ingredient(s) in making the perfect hot sauce?
For me, it is Garlic, more Garlic, some more Garlic, Onions and Black Pepper. I love those ingredients in anything.
Is there a special process you follow in making your hot sauces?
Our sauces are very different than almost all others on the market because everything we use is fresh and the sauce isn’t heat packed. This means we have to be very, very exacting and meticulous in our process. There aren’t many companies that would go through all the work we do to make our sauces. That is what makes them so unique.
Do you follow a particular philosophy to making hot sauces?
Details, Details, Details… God is in the details. Every little detail matters. We core every tomato, stem every chile and we go through every clove of garlic making sure there is no root or peel before roasting it. I never want anyone to take a bite of our sauce and have to wonder what a certain thing is. Have you ever gotten an egg shell in your breakfast or a tomato core on your burger? It completely ruins the meal and for some reason always seems to happen in your first bite. I never, ever want that to happen with our sauces.
Do you have any other favorite spicy foods?
By far my favorite spicy food is the Mad Anthony’s Fiery Mustard Sauce that we make for Michael Anthony. I am addicted to that on beer broiled bratwurst. (had some tonight) I also eat some of our Ring of Fire Beef Jerky almost every day and have very recently discovered the Tabasco Potato Chips by Zapps. Even though I can’t stand Tabasco sauce, I love the chips. I also like Spicy Beef with noodles from a local Thai restaurant. Other than that, I’m really not much of a hot food eater. I like Good Food! If it is spicy that is fine, if it isn’t, that is fine too, as long as it is done well. I almost forgot. Another fabulous, mildly spicy product that I really love is the Spicy Maya Dark Chocolate from Chuau Chocolatier. I am a chocoholic and somewhat of a chocolate snob and their Venezuelan Dark Chocolate is by far the best.
Do you have any advice for would-be hot sauce makers making sauces at home?
Make sure you have the complete support of your spouse before pursuing it as a commercial venture. It isn’t worth causing any problems in your household that may not be able to be undone. Also have a very clear idea of what you want your company to be and how to achieve it. Without a clear focus, you will waste a lot of time and even more money. Imagine that you are going to take a drive across country from San Diego to Maine. Before you would do that, you would get a map, figure out your path, where you were going to stay, exactly how you were going to get there, how long it would take and how much it was going to cost. If you start a business without that type of plan, you will wind up somewhere in Kansas wondering where you were going, what happened to all your money and the past two years of your life.
Imagine this sad reality: If you could have only one chili pepper the rest of your life, which would you choose?
Serrano. It’s my favorite.
If your life could be turned into a movie, who would you like to have play YOU on the big screen? What might the movie TITLE be?
Since I am a huge Firefly / Nathan Fillion fan, I would love to say that he would play me but the reality is much more likely to be Christopher Titus. We look like we could be brothers and had a similar childhood. Hi is also really funny. The title would probably read “Stay in School or This Could Happen to You.”
Any other parting thoughts?
This applies to any type of business.
Find exactly what the focus of your business should be and stay focused on that. Everything else will take care of itself. In our case, that focus is “The Customer Experience”. That experience begins when they see our sauce on a store shelf, purchase it, take their first bite, second bite, every bite after that and hopefully purchase another bottle. That is what we focus on. Every single bite in every bottle has to be perfect. Our sauce should make at least a small part of their life more enjoyable. Those few minutes when they sit down for a meal and put our sauce on it should be better than they would be without it. If we achieve that, the rest is easy.
Visit Ring of Fire Hot Sauce at:
Mike & Diane's Gourmet Kitchen Inc.
Phone : 619-442-0412
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