Thunder Bay's Heartbeat Hot Sauce is certainly enjoying its newfound Internet stardom.
The company's red habanero sauce was featured on the sixth season of the popular Youtube series Hot Ones, and not only did the sauce earn the praises of some well-known celebrities, but the show also led to a surge in business for the company.
Hot Ones is an interview show, bringing on various celebrities who talk with the host while eating wings covered in progressively-hotter hot sauce, and the season saw Heartbeat's red habanero earn kudos from the likes of Johnny Knoxville, Wiz Khalifa, Michael Cera and even Jeff Goldblum.
"It was a little surreal," said Al Bourbouhakis, co-owner of Heartbeat Hot Sauce company alongside Nancy Shaw.
"We were all big fans of the show before we know anything about us being on there, kinda hoping like 'maybe one day, if we're really lucky, we'll get to get on there,'" he said. "Just to be in that kind of a spotlight as such a young business was very, very exciting."
Bourbouhakis said the opportunity came after the Brooklyn-based hot sauce shop Heatonist reached out to Heartbeat Hot Sauce last year about carrying their products.
Heatonist curates the sauces featured on Hot Ones, he said.
"We spent several months going through the process of getting approved by the FDA and all that kind of stuff to be able to do business in the U.S.," Bourbouhakis said.
Heartbeat Hot Sauce began appearing on Heatonist shelves in February, and then Bourbouhakis was told Heatonist wanted to include the red habanero in its hot sauce subscription box.
"And then, we discovered shortly after that this box they were referring to was a Hot Ones box," he said. "They hadn't mentioned anything about that, as the show's very ... hush-hush as to what might be coming up on it."
But that's not all. Bourbouhakis then found out that customers were being asked to vote on which of the three sauces in the subscription box would be included on season six of Hot Ones.
"We actually headed out on a long sales trip to southern Ontario, and just after we left, we got a call saying 'okay, you've been picked for the show, there's going to be a reveal in three weeks from now,' basically just get ready to get slammed," he said. "It all just got rolling from there."
Heartbeat found itself in the second position in the show's hot sauce lineup, something Bourbouhakis said was advantageous.
"People's mouths weren't completely exhausted from all the different sauces by the time they ate ours," he said. "We did see a lot of consistent, positive feedback."
"They actually got to taste our sauce."
And business-wise, the exposure to millions of Hot Ones watchers certainly helped, as well.
"It dramatically increased our U.S. business, we're doing a lot of business across the border now," Bourbouhakis said. "Definitely in Canada, as well. We had a lot of new retailers reach out fairly quickly, and they're still coming out a lot more than they may have been ... before the show."
And while Hot Ones is switching up its lineup for season seven, Bourbouhakis is hopeful Heartbeat Hot Sauce may make another appearance on the show at some point.
New products coming
The company has been at its May Street production facility for about a year — it's not a storefront, and no product is actually sold out of that spot — and will soon be automating its assembly line to help meet the increasing demand.
A clothing line will be revealed soon, as well, and Heartbeat's partnership with DeBruin's Greenhouses is proving fruitful.
"We talked, and decided we wanted to try and partner and have them grow a lot of peppers and other things for us," Bourbouhakis said. "This season was the first full season we worked with them. They grew just an enormous amount of red habaneros for us — in fact, all the red habaneros that are in the sauce are from them now."
"We were all very, very happy with how it went. They put out such an incredible product."
And, yes, more products are coming.
"We don't know when they're going to happen, or exactly what they may be," Bourbouhakis said. "There's definitely new stuff coming up, and I hope people are as excited about it as they have been so far."
"It seems like every time we get something new happening, the response is just incredible from the community."
To order Heartbeat Hot Sauce's red habanero, jalapeno, or blueberry habanero sauce — or to find a retailer — visit the company's website.