The little hot sauce company that could: Thunder Bay's Heartbeat Hot Sauce quickly gains fans across the world.

Author:McKinley, Karen

What started as a way to use up surplus peppers from a local grower has turned into a distinctly Northern brand.

Thunder Bay's Heartbeat Hot Sauce Co. has quickly gained a following since its inception in 2015, selling to connoisseurs all over Canada, the U.S., and overseas, according to co-founder Al Bourbouhakis.

It all started when he and partner Nancy Shaw offered to buy any leftover peppers from Chris Paulusma, who grew a variety in varying heat degrees and sold them at the farmers market during the summer months. Bourbouhakis explained at the time he was a chef and hot sauce fanatic, and Shaw was a restaurant owner.

"Chris is a big part of how we got started," he said. "We had done business with him for years before, buying super hot peppers from him that other restaurants wouldn't take. We had talked about making my own hot sauce."

Bourbouhakis took the surpluses to experiment with them, with no real intention of doing anything commercial with them. Because of the high volumes he received, he turned to fermentation to preserve them.

What came out of that are three flagship sauces: blueberry habanero, red habanero, and green jalapeno.

The hot sauce market seems like a packed house with no room for new products, but Bourbouhakis said lovers of spicy sauces are always looking to try something new.

Because of that fanatical love, hot sauce fans are always sharing information. Much of Heartbeat's advertising has been through word of mouth and social media.

"We put ourselves out there as a new brand you want to discover," Bourbouhakis said. "We focus on having a brand and look that has an appeal, to be a sharp product that stands out on the shelf."

Even though they focus on the look, the taste is still critical. Bourbouhakis said they stick to the formula they've used for years and add no preservatives or...

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