Some Like it Hot!
By Ray Willhoft ’00
Some put it on their red beans and rice. Some put it on their shrimp po-boys. And some put it on their scrambled eggs. But regardless of its use, hot sauce has become the condiment New Orleanians (and now others around the country and the world) reach for when they want to add a kick to their taste buds.
Of course, variety is the spice of life as the saying goes, and there is no shortage of choices when it comes to hot sauces. Thanks to these two alumni, there is a range of flavor and heat to suit every palate.
A Few Shakes of Crystal
Baumer Foods has been producing Crystal Hot Sauce since 1923, after Alvin Baumer bought Miss Fruit Products, which produced snowball syrups, and received a recipe for hot sauce as an unexpected bonus. Alvin and his wife, Mildred, perfected the formula and began making the hot sauce on Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans.
Baumer Foods became a true family business when Loyola business alumnus Alvin A. Baumer, Jr. ’75, who practically grew up in his parents’ factory, began answering the telephone switchboard on occasion as a child (which he fondly recalls leading to a fine for his father violating child labor laws). Baumer was bitten by the hot sauce bug, going on to work just about every job there is for the company. Today, he serves as president and CEO, continuing the company’s tradition of quality and service, just like his parents taught him.
“We have always been a family business,” notes Baumer, “and when your name is on the company’s masthead, you have to make sure you deliver quality products.”
Baumer’s wife serves as CFO of the company, and their son, who is currently in college, has expressed his interest in joining the business as well, ensuring that the family’s legacy will live on for many years to come.
Today, Baumer Foods, which relocated to Reserve, La., after Hurricane Katrina ruined its former Mid-City plant, ships more than three million gallons of Crystal Hot Sauce each year around the U.S. and to more than 20 countries. The company also produces Crystal Extra Hot Sauce; specialty hot sauces; steak, soy, and Worcestershire and oriental sauces; and chicken wing and barbecue sauces.
Baumer believes that Crystal Hot Sauce’s unique taste rather than burn sets it apart, referencing the company’s saying, “We sell flavor, not heat.”
A Dash of Melinda’s Hot Sauce
Figueroa Brothers, Inc., headquartered in Dallas, Texas, first introduced Melinda’s Original Habanero Pepper Sauce in 1989. Owned and operated by Loyola communication alumnus David O. Figueroa, Jr. ’94, who serves as president, and his brother, Greg P. Figueroa, chairman/CEO, the company continues its mission “to produce products with integrity, quality, freshness, and a dedication to balancing heat and flavor.”
“I was working as a creative director and pitchman for one of the largest ad agencies in New Orleans at the time (it no longer exists, so goes the agency biz),” says Figueroa. “My brother, Greg, was working on developing an import/export business, and Melinda’s came to us. I quit my gig, designed an elegant look for Melinda’s U.S. intro, and the rest is history. We hustled our butts off and learned on the fly. In two years, Melinda’s Hot and Extra Hot had national distribution, and today it is the fifth largest pepper sauce brand in the U.S.”
Thanks to their success, the Figueroa brothers were included among the hottest young entrepreneurs by Entrepreneur Magazine and included in New Orleans Magazine’s “1997’s People to Watch.”
In addition to Melinda’s, Figueroa Brothers, Inc., produces several other gourmet brands, including private brands for companies such as House of Blues, The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, and Joe’s Crab Shack, among others. The brothers also established Fig Creative Studio, headquartered in Covington, La., which handles the branding and marketing for Figueroa Brothers, Inc., products and for its clients.
But at the end of the day, Figueroa attributes the company’s success to a simple philosophy.
“We believe in what we do, and we charge hard at our goals,” Figueroa explains. “Can’t, no, and maybe are not in our vocab. We are guilty of jumping into projects that we like without fear, which has resulted in some flops and a bunch of successes. Winners fail, but they never quit—this is the secret to our success.”