FLAVOR FIRST: A LOOK INSIDE HEATONIST’S CUPBOARDS
Heat is important to hot sauce, of course. But pitchforks and a cartoon devil on a label do not an excellent condiment make. Flavor must come before all that. That’s Noah Chaimberg’s cardinal rule. The owner of Williamsburg-based hot sauce retailer Heatonist spent many a night and weekend in 2013 sharing tastes of the boroughs’ best hot sauces with discerning New Yorkers at pop-ups and parties. Small-batch only, though: no additives, preservatives, extracts, or gums allowed.
He likens the trajectory of his hot sauce business to the craft beer movement—a surge of interest in small businesses making things for passion, not profit.
Nobody goes into this business for the wrong reason.
“We really value the small makers and the spirit of the entrepreneurship behind it,” Chaimberg says. “Nobody goes into this business for the wrong reason. For the most part everybody is still working at least part-time on something else too to pay the bills. It’s a labor of love for all these people. You’ve got to be a little bit of a strange person to start making hot sauce.”
In 2014, Chaimberg found a retail space and set up shop full-time, serving as hot sauce sommelier to the Big Apple, introducing exotic combinations of blueberries and ghost peppers, ginger root and tomatillos. He also focused on a traditionally ignored demographic in the hot sauce business: women, who now make up more than half of his customers. And those customers come from all over.
“An elderly couple came in from Moscow,” Chaimberg says. “They didn’t want to try anything. They got a shopping list from their daughter back home who had been on the website and they had written down what to get exactly.”
Heatonist now carries the best New York has to offer along with hot sauces from Japan, Canada, and all over the U.S. For those who can’t make it to Brooklyn, e-commerce is how they get their fix.
Heatonist’s MailChimp list comes from the store’s guestbook—one you have to ask for to sign. Chaimberg uses their newsletter mostly to advertise events. His customer base is highly engaged, and he’s careful to send them gorgeously designed newsletters that are high on delight without overpromotion.
“Nobody unsubscribes,” he says, proudly. “We’re committed to quality over quantity.”