Meet Mike, founder of Rising Smoke Sauceworks:
I grew up in a house divided. My father was a lover of spice, at least on his terms. Not too many meals went by without the bottle of Frank’s Red Hot or the jar of crushed red pepper making an appearance at the table. Beyond that, he would not tolerate any other flavors being introduced to his food, such as garlic or onion. My mother on the other hand loved to cook with garlic and onions, but did not care for the heat.
In our kitchen, there would often be two different versions of the same meal being prepared. As for me, I wanted the best of both worlds. When I was old enough to learn that there were options beyond what was available in my childhood refrigerator, my curiosity peaked. A chilehead was born.
A few years later, I started growing peppers in a window box outside my apartment and became amazed at the overwhelming variety of flavor that existed. Every growing season I would explore new varieties as well as adding the latest record breaker for the hottest pepper in the world. My exploration was limited only by the amount of window boxes I could fill.
When a new job opportunity offered my family the chance to relocate to North Carolina and leave behind the harsh climate of the northeast, little did I know, my fate was sealed.
The first thing I did once we purchased our home in NC was to put in a garden that would house more peppers than I could have handled in my earlier window box gardens. The second thing I did was to buy a smoker.
Now that I was a “southerner”, I had to learn how to smoke BBQ. It wasn’t long before I started combining my passions and marveling in the flavor profiles that I could achieve by smoking the peppers. At first, I used the yield from my garden to spice up my meals with fresh flavor and whatever I couldn’t use I would either freeze or dehydrate and turn into powder. Then I decided to take a stab at making my own hot sauces.
Early on I was a bit of a mad scientist. In some ways I still am. I would experiment with all different types of recipes and flavor profiles and then I would take each of those and break them down into sub experiments tinkering with each ingredient amount. When I would have friends come over for a tasting party for feedback on my creations, they knew they were in for a long night. Things were still at the hobby stage for me at this point, but the feedback from friends and family was encouraging me to take the leap and see if my sauces were worthy of being sold to the public.
I have wanted to start my own business for as long as I can remember, but I must admit if I had attempted this venture fifteen, or even ten years ago, I would have had very little chance for success. I have been blessed to gain a lot of experience in managing a business and more importantly, managing projects, in my professional life. That experience helped me ensure I did the necessary research, understood all of the requirements, and knew exactly what I was getting into before making the leap.
I still have my day job today and have no illusions that this business is the path to riches and early retirement. This is my pursuit of a passion. It requires long nights, traveling and working weekends, personal sacrifices for my family and I, and yet we love every minute of it. My hope is only that it is successful enough, people enjoy my products, and my kids can learn all the different aspects of running a business.
Our sauces truly focus on the flavor over the heat and we have something for everyone’s level of tolerance. We use all natural ingredients and no preservatives and all of our savory sauces utilize either smoked or roasted peppers. When someone comes up to us and says “I don’t do hot sauce,” but we encourage them to try some of our milder sauces and they end up loving them, what an amazing feeling that is. I like to think we are helping to grow the industry by converting people to chileheads one at a time.