Specialty Food Magazine

FALL 2018

Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

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People tasting the product experience the sweetness of the honey first, Kurtz says, followed by the spicy kick on the back of the palate from the chili peppers. It All Started with a Hike In 2003, Kurtz and some friends were travel- ing and, after a hiking trip, landed in a small town in Brazil, looking for something to eat. " There was a pizzeria with jars of honey that had chili peppers sitting in them for driz- zling on top of the pizzas," he says. "When I tasted the combination of the chili-infused honey drizzled over pizza, I was blown away." After returning home from his trav- els in 2004, Kurtz began making chili pepper-infused honey for his own person- al consumption. In the summer of 2010, Kurtz found himself working at a music industry booking agency during the day, and at Paulie Gee's pizzeria in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, at night. He was still making his hot honey on the side and brought some in for restaurant owner Paulie Giannone to try. The pizza baron liked it so much, he made it a featured ingredient on the restau- rant's Hellboy pizza. Meanwhile, Kurtz had decided to fol- low his heart and become a full-time pizza cook at the restaurant. "I loved making pizzas," he says. "We call the kitchen the 'pizza theater' at Paulie Gee's. It's open to the f loor of the restaurant, so when you're making pizzas you're able to interact with the guests, and I just loved it. I loved it a lot more than my music industry day job." Customers were soon raving about the honey they tasted on the pizza and began asking where they could buy it, so Kurtz started selling it in plastic containers at the restaurant. Soon, there were so many cus- tomers asking for it that he decided to begin actually bottling it in 2010. He recruited his best childhood friend, who had become a graphic designer, to design the label, setting the stage for the expansion of Mike's Hot Honey into retail. The product took off as local customers— and local retailers—saw it as a "hometown condiment," Kurtz says. Specialty purveyors such as The Brooklyn Kitchen, Bedford Cheese Shop, and Murray's Cheese began carrying the product, and Kurtz found himself driving around making deliveries at night after making fresh batches in the kitchen of Paulie Gee's—and after his shift making pizzas, which he still does occasionally. "I was a one-man operation for the first four years," he says. Scaling Up the Business One of the first challenges Kurtz had to overcome was finding a way to have the product bottled. He quickly learned that typical sauce manufacturers didn't necessar- ily have the right equipment to bottle honey, and honey bottlers didn't want to risk cross- contamination with the peppers. He finally worked with his honey sup- plier, Stiles Honey, one of the largest honey producers in New York, to create a dedi- cated bottling line at the company's bottling facility in New Jersey. Together, in 2014, they "MacGyvered " a bottling line that could take over the production of his unique creation, he explains. "The product didn't exist before, so there was no equipment designed for it, and there was no blueprint for how to do it," Kurtz says. "We just had to figure it out, and eventually we did, through a lot of experimenting." The new production line "was the key to unlocking a lot of opportunity," he says. "At that point, I had built up enough inter- est in the product that there was a demand that I couldn't fulfill." The fact that the product had lim- ited availability may have helped give it a boost, he says, by creating an aura of intrigue. "People started hearing about it, but they couldn't get their hands on it," says Kurtz. In 2015, Kurtz took on a business part- ner, Matt Beaton, whose business acumen and CPG experience at Wrigley Co. have helped Mike's Hot Honey grow. Beaton and Kurtz had been friends for one year in college at the University of Wisconsin, before Kurtz transferred back home to the University of Massachusetts. On a visit to New York, Beaton and his wife, Erynn, learned about his efforts to grow the Mike's Hot Honey business. A week later, Beaton offered to quit his corporate job and join Kurtz at Mike's Hot Honey. "It was just a really serendipitous thing," says Kurtz. "He was the exact type of person I needed. And also, Erynn is — 2003 Mike Kurtz tastes chili pepper honey on a pizza in Brazil. — 2004 Begins making chili pepper infused honey at home as a hobby. — 2010 Gets a job working as a pizza apprentice at Paulie Gee's, adds Mike's Hot Honey to the Hellboy pizza, and begins selling the condiment to customers. — 2014 Opens a production line in New Jersey with supplier Stiles Honey. — 2015 Matt Beaton joins Mike's Hot Honey as business partner. — 2017 Mike's Hot Honey completes first round of financing. — 2018 Wins Front Burner Foodservice Pitch Competition at the Specialty Food Association's Summer Fancy Food Show. HIGHLIGHTS FALL 2018 51

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