Interview: Hot Sauce'n with Heidi Tickle
Thursday, March 8, 2012 at 11:00 AM | Sean Durnan
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Not your everyday c-level dealer-broker, Heidi Tickle, has been bottling up Tickle Sauce in New York for nearly a decade. A native of New Orleans and longtime Park Slope resident, she started making her own habanero based hot sauce as a hobby from her Brooklyn apartment. As popularity among friends and coworkers grew, she started looking for shelf space at local food stores. While continuing to work in financial services, Heidi built her business from the ground up - everything from writing the business plan and managing finances to developing and marketing the product, even personally delivering orders.

Starting on the shelves at GRAB in Park Slope, Tickle Sauce is now available at markets and stores all over New York and can be ordered on the Tickle Sauce website. The product suite has been expanded with medium and mild sauces, and test batches are being made for a gluten free product they hope to introduce later this year.

We recently had the opportunity to talk with Heidi about Tickle Sauce and her experiences as an entrepreneur. 

Read the interview for yourself:

What was it about hot sauce that made you want to pursue it professionally?

I grew up in New Orleans and was heavy handed with hot sauce from an early age, Tabasco in particular. One of the first dishes I ever made was a hamburger in a frying pan with butter, swimming in tabasco. When I came to New York and tried a habanero for the first time, I simply loved the heat that this pepper brought to the fore.

I picked up the sauce idea and started making test batches. When a friend said he loved it and wanted to have it on the shelf of a new store he was opening, I asked a few questions on how to start down the path. Next thing I knew, I was getting educated on how to bring a product from a home kitchen to a store shelf near you.

What have been the biggest challenges to you in starting and running a business?

Three foundational things that are the most challenging: (1) writing a targeted and realistic business plan, (2) planning the finances and (3) getting the word out to potential buyers. Getting told 'No' is just part of the gig. I don't take it personally, it's business. Sometimes it's a no because they don't like my product, sometimes the product isn't a good fit for their store, the location is too far or (because we're made in small batches with fresh, locally sourced goods) the price point is too high. 

What are your future plans for Tickle Sauce?

I would like to port my skill set over to the food services industry, either start working on the business side of a food services organization or buy into a small business and take a more hands on role in running the organization. This way, I can continue to help it grow and potentially add my sauce to the product line. We'll see what unfolds, I'm open to whatever the right next move is.

Advice for aspiring culinary entrepreneurs?

Ask lots of questions. Reach out to people you want to know or whom you want to emulate. I could not have succeeded without connecting with good people, mentors. 

Heidi Tickle can be reached at heidi@ticklesauce.com

Click here to order her sauce.

Manhattan

  • Beer Table Pantry
  • Andaz Wall Street Farmer's Market - Look for Beth's Farm Kitchen for Tickle Sauce
  • Pizza a Casa

Brooklyn

  • Fleisher's Brooklyn
  • GRAB Specialty Foods
  • Brooklyn Commune
  • Valley Shepherd Creamery
  • Naidre's (Heidi loves it on the Barry's Tempeh Tamale)
  • Marlow & Daughters
  • Parco
  • Tin City General Store

Upstate New York

  • Fleisher's (307 Wall Street in Kingston, NY)
  • Olde Hudson (421 Warren Street in Hudson, NY)
  • Bellwether Hard Cider (9070 Route 89 in Trumansburg, NY)
  • Argyle Cheese Farmer (Argyle, NY) - Look for the sauce at the Farm Store
  • Rusty Tractor Farm (online sales) 
Tags: hot sauce, entrepreneur interviews, heidi tickle, Behind The Plate, joonbug, new york, brooklyn, habanero