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Featured VentureMom Sue Sullivan – The Hot Squeeze

sue-sullivan-headshot-257x300She never planned to be a food mogul but when her chipotle sauce kept getting her noticed, things changed. Sue Sullivan worked as a page at NBC in New York City but when she started a family, she ended up at home and back in her kitchen. Sue always loved to create meals and delicacies for her own family and for friends. So when she began to look for a career with flexibility she started a catering company. “I could work with my children around. I often found myself chopping, prepping and delivering food with a child on my back.”HotSqueeze-SHC-sauce-sm2-150x150

Sue soon discovered she had a favorite item, “Clients always raved about my chipotle sauce.” The buzz was so great that companies would ask around, “Who’s the caterer that makes that great sauce.” Friends constantly told her, “You should bottle that stuff.”

So in 2006, Sue decided she should look into it. She started by reaching out to a friend of a friend who owned a food company and discovered that he was happy to offer his guidance. In fact, Sue reached out to various vendors she would need and always asked for advice, “It was amazing how everyone wanted to help when I told them I was new to the game and needed their expertise. Admitting to being naive really helped me learn so much from people in the business.”

Hot-Squeeze-OGZ-rub-web2-150x150Now what to name her sauce. Sitting around with her neighbors one night over cocktails, the group threw out words about the sauce – hot, sweet, spicy, squeeze, “Someone said hot squeeze and when I heard it I knew that was it.” The play on words had a fun double meaning and Hot Squeeze was born. As a former art major, Sue had pictured the logo in her mind and drew it herself. She scaled immediately, finding a bottler and manufacturer and placed the minimum order, “I had no idea if anyone would even buy the 500 cases I now had stored in my garage.”

Her mentor asked her to share a booth with him at the New York City Fancy Food Show, where she set up shop with samples. “I had to glue gun the labels on at this point.” She left New York with lots of contacts. Sue knew follow-up was key, so she got started with mass emails to vendors and followed up with calls and samples by mail. It was when the buyer for Whole Foods called to say that they wanted my product that I knew I had a viable business, “I was so thrilled that I kept that message on my machine forever.”hot-sqz-spice-blends-group-150x150

At her peak, Hot Squeeze was in over 2000 stores nationwide but now she is focused on ecommerce and a direct sales model. She’s expanded her line to include spices and rubs and even a cookie mix. “My two kids are 20 and 24 now, and have helped out at all phases of the business from packing and wrapping pallets to selling at food shows.”

Sue says, “I sort of just fell into this, it was never my dream to have a food company, but once it came into view, I went running after it.” Sue has certainly made her chipotle sauce a national obsession, ” I had this eureka moment one day walking through a grocery store and saw ‘my baby’ out there on the shelf, that was amazing.”

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