How Mike’s Hot Honey built a  million a year business with a single product
How Mike’s Hot Honey built a  million a year business with a single product

Mike Kurtz does not prefer to journey with out his briefcase. 

The crimson Franzen case is identical mannequin as the enduring briefcase from Quentin Tarantino’s movie “Pulp Fiction”. But not like within the 1994 movie, everybody is aware of precisely what’s inside. 

That’s as a result of Kurtz is raring to point out off how he had the suitcase wired to mild up just like in the movie, with the built-in bulbs illuminating the amber hue of bottles of sizzling honey that bear his title. 

Indeed, the rationale Kurtz brings the suitcase with him whereas he travels is in order that he can unfold the gospel of Mike’s Hot Honey, the spicy honey that has taken pizzerias by storm.

He hundreds the briefcase up with 5 12-ounce bottles earlier than each journey. Kurtz likes to offer a bottle to the taxi driver who takes him to the airport, after which fingers out a few to the check-in brokers who deal with his luggage. By the time he will get to the safety line, his briefcase is empty. 

Kurtz likes to offer out bottles of honey from his “Pulp Fiction” impressed briefcase.

Raffi Paul, Mickey Todiwala | CNBC Make It

“I believe there’s one thing about briefcases. You do not see them round too usually,” Kurtz says of his favourite advertising and marketing prop. “So everytime you do, there’s this subliminal message despatched out to the individuals round you that no matter’s within the briefcase is of worth. It’s gotta be necessary should you’re carrying it in a briefcase, proper?”

Even now, practically 20 years after he first began experimenting with making sizzling honey in his faculty condominium, Kurtz has an apparent ardour for the product. And it is his enthusiasm that inadvertently spawned a business that has captured a 2.5% share of the $1 billion U.S. honey market.

Here’s how Kurtz built up Mike’s Hot Honey from simply a passion into a firm poised to herald greater than $40 million over the subsequent year.

‘You know what? This is likely to be the life for me’

A school-aged Kurtz in Brazil, the place he discovered the inspiration for Mike’s Hot Honey.

Mike’s Hot Honey

From an early age, Kurtz had a need to be a “condiment man.” He had a probability run-in with Larry Raymond, co-creator of the favored Sweet Baby Ray’s barbeque sauce, throughout his freshman year of school. The interplay, he says, left him feeling impressed. 

“I noticed that condiments actually elevate meals,” Kurtz tells CNBC Make It. “And I’ve all the time been into cooking. I noticed Larry and the way a lot enjoyable he was having promoting barbecue sauce and I assumed: ‘You know what? This is likely to be the life for me.” 

Fast ahead a few years to 2004 and Kurtz was a junior finding out overseas in Brazil. On a weekend journey in a nationwide park, he and his associates hiked right down to a valley the place they encountered a pizzeria that featured one thing Kurtz had by no means seen earlier than: jars of honey with chili peppers in them sitting on each desk. 

“The first time I tasted the mixture of honey and chili peppers on pizza it blew my thoughts,” Kurtz says. “It was so scrumptious that I noticed I wished to attempt to make it for myself.” 

During the autumn of his senior year, Kurtz started experimenting with his personal sizzling honey in his faculty condominium. 

The first time I tasted the mixture of honey and chili peppers on pizza it blew my thoughts.

Mike Kurtz

Founder, Mike’s Hot Honey

Rather than recreate precisely what he had tried in Brazil, Kurtz wished to place his personal spin on the condiment. In reality, he already had a title for it: Mike’s Hot Honey. He tried various kinds of peppers, various kinds of honey and varied methods for infusing warmth into the honey. 

Eventually, he settled on the recipe that might someday be offered at greater than 30,000 retailers and eating places throughout the nation. 

“It’s a lot hotter, extra chili ahead and has a a lot stronger kick than what I tasted in Brazil,” he explains. “You style the sweetness and the floral notes of the honey first, after which there’s a one second delay earlier than that signature kick on the again of your palate.” 

Some prefer it sizzling

Kurtz working at Paulie Gee’s in August 2010 with bottle of Mike’s Hot Honey in hand.

Mike’s Hot Honey

Despite having the official-sounding title, the candy pizza topping was nothing greater than a passion for Kurtz. He initially made it just for himself, however as quickly as individuals received a style, he began getting requests. 

“I used to be making Mike’s Hot Honey for my very own private consumption on pizza,” he says. “Pretty shortly my family and friends observed it and I began making it across the holidays to offer out as items.” 

That all modified a few years later. Post-college, Kurtz was working within the music trade as an assistant to a reserving agent and indulging his pizza-making behavior in his free time. 

He would spend hours exchanging suggestions with fellow pizza aficionados on a weblog known as Slice, the place he first encountered a pizza maker named Paulie Gee who would quickly be opening a pizzeria in Greenpoint, Brooklyn near the place Kurtz lived on the time. 

When Paulie Gee’s eponymous restaurant opened in 2010, Kurtz went to strive the pizza and meet the person behind the pies.

“I began peppering him with questions on his course of for making dough and the way the oven labored,” Kurtz says. “And by the top of the dialog, he may inform that I used to be actually into making pizza and he requested if I’d be concerned about coming in as a pizza apprentice.” 

Soon sufficient, Kurtz was working evenings on the pizzeria, training stretching dough and dealing the oven till he was deemed prepared to start out making pizzas. 

I may see individuals’s reactions to tasting Mike’s Hot Honey on their pizza. It was like ‘Holy s–t, that is unimaginable.’

Mike Kurtz

Founder, Mike’s Hot Honey

Just a few days into his apprenticeship, Kurtz introduced in a bottle of his home made honey. Paulie tasted it after which drizzled it on a sizzling soppressata pizza. He shortly requested Kurtz if he can be keen to make his sizzling honey for the restaurant.

“I used to be flattered,” Kurtz says. “I used to be clearly a actually large fan of his pizza at that time, and excited to have this unimaginable car for individuals to strive Mike’s Hot Honey.” 

Kurtz began producing honey by the gallon. It was the star ingredient of the Hellboy, a pepperoni slice topped with a drizzle of honey that’s nonetheless a best-seller on the pizzeria to at the present time.

“I’d be in entrance of the oven stretching dough, and I may see individuals’s reactions to tasting Mike’s Hot Honey on their pizza,” Kurtz says. “It was like ‘Holy s–t, that is unimaginable.’ And individuals began coming as much as me asking if I used to be the honey man and the place they might purchase it.” 

Growing the business

Mike’s Hot Honey has grow to be a mainstay topping at pizzerias across the nation.

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Kurtz started his apprenticeship in August of 2010. By November of that very same year, demand for to-go bottles of his honey was so robust that he determined he wanted to place a label on the bottle in order that he may promote it off the bar. 

“I’d go at the back of the pizzeria and replenish a little pint container with honey and promote it for money behind the pizza oven,” he remembers. “And I did that for a few months earlier than I noticed it was time to start out bottling it.” 

At first, scaling his manufacturing was simple. The restaurant was closed on Mondays, so Kurtz would are available in whereas the kitchen was empty and spend the day making batches of sizzling honey. But ultimately Paulie Gee’s moved to seven days a week, forcing Kurtz to alter his strategy. 

“The solely time I may do manufacturing was at evening after the restaurant had closed,” he says. “I’d be in there from midnight until six within the morning simply bottling, capping and labeling bottles of Mike’s Hot Honey.”

Word of the spicy topping at Brooklyn’s sizzling new pizzeria shortly unfold. Soon, Kurtz was fielding orders from eating places and specialty retailers across the metropolis. 

Though Kurtz had initially envisioned Mike’s Hot Honey solely as a pizza topping, he was shocked to see the inventive makes use of different eating places had been discovering for his product.

I actually imagined it as simply a pizza condiment. But as soon as it received into the fingers of cooks who had been much more gifted within the kitchen than I’m, they began utilizing it on all the pieces.

Mike Kurtz

Founder, Mike’s Hot Honey

“I actually imagined it as simply a pizza condiment,” he says. “But as soon as it received into the fingers of cooks who had been much more gifted within the kitchen than I’m, they began utilizing it on all the pieces.” 

While pizza and fried rooster are nonetheless the 2 hottest supply autos for Mike’s Hot Honey, it has additionally discovered its means into salads, craft cocktails and even ice cream

By 2011, Kurtz had launched a one-man distribution operation. 

“I used to drive round New York City in my 1995 Geo Prizm with a trunk loaded up with honey,” Kurtz says. “I’d make deliveries to native retailers and eating places and backside out on all of the potholes. But these early restaurant partnerships set a basis that the model has actually benefited from and nonetheless advantages from right this moment.” 

Kurtz’s burgeoning business received its large break in 2014 when a native Whole Foods purchaser contacted him about promoting Mike’s Hot Honey at one in all its New York places. At the time, it was the primary grocery store to hold the product. 

As the profile of Mike’s Hot Honey grew, Kurtz determined it was time to depart Paulie Gee’s and usher in somebody to assist him take the business to the subsequent degree. He enlisted Matt Beaton, a buddy from his days at UMass Amherst, to function the corporate’s CEO starting in 2015. 

Beaton helped scale up burdensome facets of the business, resembling packing, choosing and delivery packing containers. He helped discover achievement facilities and distributors.

When Beaton got here onboard, Mike’s Hot Honey was bringing in $100,000 a year in income. By the top of Beaton’s first year as CEO, that determine had grown sixfold to $600,000.

One of Beaton’s greatest duties was spearheading the method of elevating the tens of millions of {dollars} in funding needed for Mike’s Hot Honey to have the ability to tackle the big orders it was receiving from large prospects. 

Over three funding rounds, Mike’s Hot Honey raised $12 million. That cash allowed it to not solely carry extra stock and repair orders on time and in full, it additionally helped Kurtz and Beaton develop their company group. 

Doubling down on honey

Mike’s Hot Honey containers are available in a wide selection of sizes.

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The means Kurtz and Beaton noticed it, that they had two choices for rising their business: growing different merchandise below the Mike’s Hot Honey model or doubling down on their star condiment. 

Instead of arising with a lineup of various flavors, Kurtz and Beaton selected to concentrate on completely different use circumstances. 

While the 12-ounce squeeze bottle continues to be far and away the most well-liked product they promote, Mike’s Hot Honey additionally produces sizes starting from gallon jugs and 24-ounce chef’s bottles to 0.5-ounce squeeze packets, 1-ounce dip cups and 1.55-oz mini glass jars for gifting. 

We remind ourselves on daily basis that now we have lightning in a bottle. And the overwhelming majority of this nation nonetheless has but to strive it.

Matt Beaton

CEO, Mike’s Hot Honey

A white-hot future

These days, it looks as if Mike’s Hot Honey is all over the place. 

In addition to being offered in additional than 30,000 retailers and eating places, the model’s signage decorates home windows of pizzerias throughout the nation and it has launched into excessive profile collabs with manufacturers like Utz, Austin Eastciders and First Watch. Most not too long ago, it introduced a partnership with nationwide chain Marco’s Pizza to supply a limited-time pizza drizzled with honey.

As the recognition of Mike’s Hot Honey has grown, so too has the military of opponents attempting to get a reduce of the pie. Not that the competitors bothers Kurtz one bit. 

“We imagine [our competitors] actually carry consciousness to the class at massive and validate what we’re constructing as a model,” he says. 

Talking to Kurtz, you get the sense that even when he hadn’t met Paulie Gee by a pizza weblog and by accident launched his honey at one of many New York’s trendiest pizzerias, he’d nonetheless be completely happy making Mike’s Hot Honey at residence and giving it away free of charge.

“I actually had no concept that this might grow to be a business,” Kurtz says. “I used to be simply a fan of the mixture of honey and chili peppers on pizza and was excited to share it with my associates.”

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