RALEIGH — Ever wondered what it would take to turn a favorite family recipe into something sold on grocery store shelves? Well for one North Carolina couple, this dream became a reality in 2018, nearly 10 years after they originally invented their now famous hot sauce while watching sports at home. Meet Sara and Matt Grow, a Raleigh couple with Southern roots that run deep and the masterminds behind Chaza Bros Southern Hot Sauce.
The details of their compelling story are a testament not only to their strong work ethic and entrepreneurialism, but also to just how many regulatory hurdles small business owners must navigate to even have a shot at making it into the retail supply chain. While N.C.’s “buy local” movement has certainly taken off over the last decade, there is no shortage of competition from both national outlets as well as online retailers like Amazon and Walmart. Chaza’s president and CEO Sara Grow, sat down with the North State Journal and gave us a glimpse of their journey.
NSJ: What is the story behind Chaza Bros?
SG: My husband Matt crafted this unique, southern condiment in our kitchen over 10 years ago for friends and family. After years of home production we pulled the trigger and began officially bottling Chaza in the winter of 2018. Chaza was sold at specialty stores throughout the Triangle, Charlotte and Wilmington. Fast forward to spring of 2018, and Chaza had been picked up by several national gourmet food distributors. Today, our three sauces are sold in specialty grocery stores, restaurants, country clubs, and hotels across the country and we continue to grow.
NSJ: What’s behind the name Chaza?
Early on, we knew we needed a catchier name than “Matt’s Wing Sauce.” Chaza was the nickname for our twin boys when they were acting “Spicy.” If you look closely at the logo you will see the twin’s profiles. The Chaza Bros plan to major in business when they start as freshmen at UNC this Fall. Their goal is to expand the Chaza brand in ways we never knew possible. #chazame!
NSJ: Explain the approval process (FDA, insurance, etc.) that you had to go through in order to make it to retail shelves?
SG: Prior to starting this business I was a kindergarten teacher in Garner for three years and then a photographer in Raleigh for 13, and in the back of my mind I thought to myself, “How hard could this be?” I started researching it and realized just how hard it was! I was overwhelmed when I got the requirements packet back from the co packer. FDA testing, insurance, confidentiality agreements, product labeling, trademark registration, marketing- including web, logo and brand design – and this was just to launch the business! So, for a year, the requirements package sat on my desk and I looked at it out of the corner of my eye every once and a while. Then in early 2017 I told myself I was going to work on one requirement a day to chip away at the packet. One year later we were on shelves! Getting picked up by distributors was the game changer. The job quickly became more of managing distributors and reps instead of managing the few small accounts I personally, could reach in a week.
NSJ: Tell me about the process of making the hot sauce?
SG: We are fortunate to have Carolina Co Packing, a state-of-the-art bottling company right here Henderson. We pride ourselves that all elements of Chaza production are N.C.-based. Once we signed the non-compete agreement over, CCP now handles everything from the ordering of the ingredients and bottles to the mass production of the sauces as well as filling the bottles and labeling.
NSJ: What varieties do you make, and any plans to branch out into more than hot sauces in the future?
SG: Chaza is not like your typical hot sauce. Most hot sauces are so hot that “just a dot will do.” Chaza is more of a condiment you will want to slather on, hence the bigger flask style bottle. It has been accurately described as a combination of a hot sauce and BBQ sauce. Chaza Southern Hot Sauce- don’t worry, this tangy and twangy sauce is not TOO hot! Its habanero peppers and seasonings combined with a vinegar and mustard kick. Matt originally created it as a wing sauce but now we hear of people pouring it on eggs, tacos, or as my mom experimented recently, her Brunswick stew! A family favorite shortcut dinner is to put frozen chicken breasts in your crock pot with Chaza. Shred and serve with slaw but don’t forget more Chaza on the bun! Chaza Dipping Sauce- More of a smooth heat, think spicy ranch. This versatile dip is great on everything from burgers and fries, to salad dressing to nachos to chili! But my personal favorite is dipping pizza crust! Chaza Reaper Sauce is very similar to original Chaza but made with Carolina reaper pepper so its extra hot. You have been warned! We are planning for our 4th sauce to be a Honey Chaza Sauce, sweet and spicy! We are corresponding with local beekeepers now to see about a partnership. After that we have considered a Chaza Bloody Mary Mix, a Chaza Salad dressing and even various Chaza rubs and seasonings.
NSJ: The hot sauce market is made up of a wide field of competitors, was it hard to break into?
SG: The Hot Sauce industry is HOT! One of our very first stores to sell Chaza was NOFO in Five Points. I remember the buyer saying, “Good Luck, everyone wants to market a hot sauce these days!” Fortunately for us, Chaza is unique enough that it sells itself. We laugh that we seem to have a cult following, some have even said that they travel with Chaza and take it to tailgates, dinner parties and even restaurants! Others order the foodservice gallon size and keep it in their fridge in squeeze bottles. Marketing is also a big component. We have a simple but catchy logo that seems to stand out on the shelves. Karen, with KLP Designs out of Apex, NC nailed our logo and website. We would be a boring wing sauce brand if it wasn’t for her!
NSJ: How has COVID impacted your business over the last year?
SG: Covid has only helped Chaza sales. Online sales have increased exponentially during quarantine. Sales are up over 100% in the last year. However, hard to say if this growth is solely COVID related or is a result of our growth in adding more distributors, gaining a consistent client base, etc. Either way, we will take it!
NSJ: Finally, what is your “average day” like, managing this startup business?
SG: As I’m sure any working mom would say, there is a balance between home mom and work mom. When I had my photography business one of the hardest parts was managing childcare, homework, school and extracurricular. Now that my children are older, it gives me more time to focus on work. But I still love my original principal of- one goal per day. If I can accomplish one thing that moves Chaza in the right direction everyday I think that is the right speed for me and my family. Someone instrumental in my mentoring early on said, “Don’t grow too big too fast.” I heed that advice. After all, I want it to continue to be fun, not stressful, and, on that note, Matt hasn’t quit his day job yet!