âItâs not about getting knocked downâ¦itâs whether or not you get back up.â
In other words, you canât control what happens to you. You can only control your response.
When COVID hit, like many other people, Kenny Cousins and David Zheutlin were left with time on their hands. They decided to do something with it.
The Trop Flavor Co. sat down with ONE37pmâs Bo Templin to tell their story.
ONE37pm: When did things take that next step and kick things into another gear?
Trop Flavor Co.: Quarantine. This was a quarantine project to start. We are roommates, friends. This became something where it went from two people who love sauce…to making hot sauce, blending things up, and giving them to friends.
ONE37pm: So this is nitty gritty, in the dirt, you are creating something.
Trop Flavor Co: I was legitimately trading hot sauce for things like radishes. It was your classic tale of a quarantine hot sauce companyâ¦It was pretty organic.
When it comes to the actual ingredients of the sauceâ¦ they have a secret they are willing to share with ONE37pm.
Trop Flavor Co.: Some experimentation with mezcalâ¦there are a few drops in every bottle.
ONE37pm: See, now you are speaking my language.
Trop Flavor Co.: We threw some in sauce and brought it to our bartender friend. They loved it and we decided that we should drop a product.
ONE37pm: When you are putting out a product like this, I feel like you could go two different ways. You could have your product vary greatly from your competition. Or you could go in a different route with marketing and branding, where you think your company has a bigger difference from your competition.
Trop Flavor Co: I feel like itâs the local aspect. During this time, it was about being opportunistic. We had to use our two skills to launch the brandâthe equity between us, our friends. And our skill sets, we leaned into themâour similarities and differences. So people feel part of David, part of Kenny, in the sauce. As a startup, whether you already knew us pre-existing or at a pop-up, That differentiated us. Flavor-wise, we take that seriously. The idea of hot sauce is generally âmetal.â The flavor of peppers is delicious. Prickly pear, mango, or papaya, so the chance to surprise people in the flavor profile that wonât crush you, I think itâs a marriage of both.
ONE37pm: When you have two people leading the way, a duo. Do you think you are your yin to your yang or are you both with the same vision, the same goal. What do you think your dynamic is?
Trop: I wouldnât say yin and yang. We def have a number of shared interests and traits but are different people. I think we balance each other well. People say donât go into business with friends. I think the reason is often because the friendship will overcome the need for business. We might be on the fire escape right now, but we are going to have a meeting. We are going to treat it with that same respect. Hot sauce is not our job, itâs our side project that is turning into something fun and exciting.
Kenny: I have a more social media, strategic background. David doesnât have an Instagram. As friends, partners, we have moments where we see things from different angles, but are saying the same thing.
ONE37pm: I ask this to a lot of people. But when you are in a business where your product is determined by the publicâ¦ the people get to decide if your hot sauce is good. How do you guys balance-taking what the audience is saying versus trusting your gut? âI know this is a good hot sauce. We need to trust our vision.â
Trop Flavor Co.: Itâs def a lot of trial and error. You put something out and get feedback. But thatâs the benefit of doing these pop-up events. We get the first-person testimonial. When we come across those really niche hot sauce heads, they taste our sauce and want it hotter. And thatâs not what we are about. Thatâs some of the tough-guy stuff that we donât want to deal with. When people actually taste our hot sauce and give us feedback that they want it a touch hotter, that is an easy fix for us. We can always add peppersâ¦ With any event we do, we bring experimental hot sauce. Thatâs rare to get that unlabeled, untested, you are the test market. We are looking for feedback. We are not the hot sauce experts. We are learning too.