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Inside Track: Food entrepreneur advises people not to ‘fear heat’
Scoville Farms and Everidae Sweet Habanero Sauce have opened up the future for Dominic Sorenson.
Dominic Sorenson has started a lot of food businesses.
A couple of the businesses were based on fantastic ideas but had little backing or support. Other business ideas verged too far toward the gimmicky side of things, such as his Sexy Chef routine, which saw him cooking for bachelorette parties in a sleeveless T-shirt.
Until recently, Sorenson wasn't sure where his food businesses would lead — or even if his entrepreneurial spirit would lead to anything at all. But habanero peppers, one of the hottest peppers in the world, have led Sorenson to prosperity.
"What characteristics do I want to show people who don't usually eat peppers? Once people realize they don't have to afraid of habaneros, it opens up their minds. They don't have to fear heat," Sorenson said.
His Everidae Sweet Habanero Sauce, a multi-purpose, sweet-and-spicy concoction, is the anchor product of his new business, Scoville Farms. The sauce was picked up in more than 100 Meijer stores earlier this year, and Monday goes on sale for the month for $7.99. The sale is designed to attract people across the state to pick up the sauce for grilling and summer usage.
"We want people to taste it before they wince at the mention of habaneros," he said.
The product line will expand this summer when Scoville Farms opens a retail location in the new Downtown Market. The location will showcase the Everidae Sauce along with up to 10 new products. Each of the products will be made using the peppers Sorenson has fallen in love with.
The new products will include a jalapeño spinach artichoke dip, a smoked chipotle roasted garlic spread with raisins, and a chipotle grilling sauce. He also plans on pairing his products with those of other vendors, potentially selling things like kabobs.
"There are so many opportunities to work within the market with the various vendors, that work in connection with peppers," he said.
Although cooking with peppers as a base could become monotonous, Sorenson finds ways to make it interesting. First, he comes up with general ideas of what products already exist using peppers as a main ingredient. Then, he thinks of specialty, niche products. Finally, he searches the Internet to see if what he finds matches his thoughts.
Recently, he visited several markets around town and brought back more than 60 pepper varieties. He spent two days tasting and cataloging them by smell, taste, texture and heat level. One of the peppers, a smoked pobano pepper, led to his garlic spread because of its prune-like flavor, he said.
"If you can match a flavor, then there's something you can pair it with," he said. "Once it's paired, you can see what that food is used in."
In the past couple of weeks, Sorenson said he's tested and retested about 30 recipes for new products and narrowed it down to 10. Those will be narrowed down even more, until he has his opening lineup.
Unlike many of his previous business projects, Sorenson isn't likely to give up on Scoville Farms.
“Most things are a flash in a pan, then I lose interest, passion,” he said, adding a $70,000 a year job at Sara Lee was too cookie cutter for him.
“All the jobs I’ve had have continued to change me; they’ve developed me into the person I am with the ventures I have.”
Sorenson hasn't always loved food. For a period of time as a child, he would only eat hot dogs, french fries and Chicken McNuggets. His food preferences changed when he was hired at Merchant of Vino, a market in Ann Arbor. The 6-foot-7 high-schooler was hungry all the time, and working in a grocery store was like heaven, he said.
As his time at the market increased, so did the foods he ate. He began picking at fruits and vegetables, slowly learning what he loved. Food became his new passion.
"There was fresh food — fruits and veggies — that I would never have tried before," he said.
The Downtown Market takes Sorenson back to his days in Ann Arbor — albeit at a grander scale. "The Ann Arbor market is a microcosm of what this will be," he said.
He believes the new Downtown Market is set to take the city to another level. Great markets are hallmarks in cities like San Francisco, Seattle and Philadelphia, he said.
"At first I thought it was just a year-round farmers market," he said. "But it will have four restaurants, a brewery, a conference center, a green house, a fully green building. It's crazy. They're going all out to make this a new-age, awesome market."
Sorenson now has the philosophy to try everything at least once, and to find at least one thing positive about each new experience.
His habanero sauce got its start when a friend of his had his annual habanero jam turn out undesirably. It was runny and gooey. But Sorenson saw something he could work with.
"One man's mistake is another man's vision," Sorenson said.
Start Garden has invested $25,000 into Scoville Farms, and Sorenson is determined to make those dollars go far. Despite the investment and his early success, Everidae Sauce still is made in Eastown's Uptown Kitchen, an incubator and licenses commercial kitchen. He said he hopes to keep the handmade spirit of his products as long as he can.
Once the Downtown Market retail location is open this summer, the hours he spends in the kitchen will rapidly increase, pretty much "tripling" the current time he spends, he said. The products then will be transported to the store at the market.
The new location will allow Sorenson to hire his first employees to run the shop.
"Our employees will reflect our values, the decorations of the store will reflect our personalities, and the food will reflect our passion," he said.
Sorenson recently hired an artist to begin rebranding the company. He said the labels will soon be "sleek and modernized."
From there, Sorenson hopes to create a fancy sales sheet that will allow him to locate more local restaurants and stores in which to place his products. He's also working with a distributor to get the products into more than 300 specialty stores across the state.
On the Scoville Farms website, scoville-farms.com, visitors can post their recipes that use Everidae Sauce, alongside those Sorenson has come up with.
“People love to share,” he said. “They can ‘like’ recipes, they can retweet them. Why not offer the recipes the sauce is good for?”
The Scoville Farm success story isn’t a bad place for Sorenson to be, after starting the business with no formal culinary education.
“In my soul, I’m an inventor,” he said. “The one thing I want to do is live. And to me living is leaving a mark.”