By Anne O’Connor
A good hot sauce can be very complex. With layers of flavor and hotness, different sauces can be used at every meal.
Brian Ruhlmann and his crew take pride in creating hot sauces with locally sourced produce and, “the relationship piece fuels us,” Ruhlmann said.
Craic Sauce is sold in 306 farmers markets and 80 shops, sold or delivered by Ruhlmann and his crew: no middlemen and no distributor.
They believe in connecting the local economy. “When we spend money, we try and source with other local businesses,” the entrepreneur said. They bought 8,500 pounds of produce from 18 local farms last season.
He meets with every farmer in January. Craic Sauce even grows some of its own in Lowell – in a rooftop garden at UMass Lowell.
Like the sauces, which come in a variety of colors, flavors and hotness, the path to opening the business had twists and turns.
Alarmed by the hotness of the ghost peppers his father Paul Ruhlmann grew at their Concord home, the younger Ruhlmann took a look at the pumpkins growing in an abutting Hutchin’s Farm field and combined the two.
It was good.
After college and a stint working for the Boston Celtics, Ruhlmann realized he wanted to do something more entrepreneurial and several years at a start-up in Dublin. Thanks to his mother Theresa Kelly Ruhlmann’s family, he has an Irish passport.
HubSpot, his employer, encouraged its employees to use the product, so in 2014 Ruhlmann started a podcast about hot sauce. This grew into a hobby and, with $2,000 in savings, he started Craic Sauce in 2017.
Craic, pronounced “crack,” is an Irish word meaning fun and good company.
Right now, the company cooks twice a week in a Lowell kitchen shared with other small food producers and UTEC, an agency that serves disconnected young people.
The business needs better kitchen equipment as it expands. It needs a commercial van to deliver their products.
The van will see good use. While they grow a bit of their own produce in Lowell, the office, storage and event space is in Chelmsford.
Limited freezer space is a challenge. Some of those thousands of pounds of produce needs to be cut up and frozen when harvested to use over the year, creating a taste of summer.
If Craic Sauce can raise $20,000, the company will get a $40,000 matching grant from the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation 2, a state-funded program for qualifying businesses.
Already a champion of podcasting, working with Biz-M-Power, Ruhlmann is crowdfunding on Patronicity.
If he succeeds, he will have $60,000 for capital expenses next year. His supporters, depending on the amount they contribute, will get sauce, merchandise or a special dinner in July.
The stakes are high. In order to qualify for the matching grant, the company must reach their $19,996 goal on Patronicity before the campaign ends. “We either get it or we don’t,” Ruhlmann said.
The prospects are looking good. At only two weeks into the drive, with a month and a half to go, Craic Sauce has raised more than half of what it needs.
One of the greatest joys that Ruhlmann takes is interacting with people who buy the sauce. “We want to share how we use it every single meal. We don’t blow our mouths off,” he said.
Concord Market will host a tasting demo on Thursday, May 18, from 4-6 p.m.
You can learn more about the company and its crowdfunding campaign at www.patronicity.com/craicsauce.