StickerGiant Chats with Shaquanda About Her Hot Sauce, How it Got Started as Prop, and Has Grown to Four Flavors!
In this Stickers on the Mic episode, Sam chats with Shaquanda, the creator and founder of Shaquanda's Hot Sauce. Based out of New York City, this hot sauce got started as a prop in Shaquanda's Drag Show, and has grown into a full fledged line of Hot Sauces with four unique flavors.
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Announcer: Welcome to the Stickers on the Mic Podcast brought to you by stickergiant.com, where we talk with our customers about how they started their business, how they're marketing their brand, and how they're growing their company. If you're joining us for the first time, welcome. If you're a regular listener, thank you for your continued support.
Sam: Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the Stickers on the Mic Podcast. This is Sam. I'm here with a very special guest this week. We have Shaquanda phoning in all the way from Harlem, New York. She represents Shaquanda’s Hot Sauce. We want to thank you so much for taking the time to phone in and speak with us today.
Shaquanda: Well, thank you so much for having me.
Sam: Absolutely. You have such a unique story. I just couldn't wait to get on the mic with you. You're making an impact from across the country.
Sam: Miss, as it reads, Shaquanda Coco Mulatta, is that correct?
Shaquanda: Mulatta, yes, right.
Sam: Get it right. Get it right. All right. Well, tell us a little bit about you, of course, the basics. We know that Shaquanda represents Shaquanda’s Hot Sauce, but we want to hear about Shaquanda, the origin of what led to Shaquanda, maybe from Andre. Tell us about that, and what does the world need to know?
Shaquanda: Well, I started my company in Bed-Stuy, which is where I'm from. I grew up in Brooklyn in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Just give away my age, but that's okay. [laughs]
Sam: It's all right. I have no hair on my head.
Shaquanda: I started making sauces and chutneys and stuff with my grandmother, who's from Barbados. I grew up having really delicious, seasoned, beautiful food. It's always been a part of my life, but I didn't necessarily think that it was going to be a business venture. Funny enough, I started doing drag, which is how Shaquanda was born. I chose that name because I wanted to rep my hood. While everybody else wanted to be all these mainstream or names that signified whiteness, I chose to stick with what was truly authentic to me. I really wanted to have a name that reminded me of a positive place in my life because there were always the homegirls in my class had my back and really shaped me to who I am today.
Sam: Yes, that's awesome. It's definitely a very Afrocentric name.
Shaquanda: Yes. [laughs]
Sam: Being an East African myself, when I heard that, I was like, “Okay, this is definitely some culture in here.”
Shaquanda: Yes. [chuckles]
Sam: It doesn't surprise me. You come from New York, which is such a melting pot of culture and amazing place for that and for culinary as well.
Shaquanda: Exactly. The name signifies seasoning. You know what I'm saying?
Sam: [laughs] What was life like before getting into all this? As Andre Springer, did you have a career in culinary before it led to this?
Shaquanda: I'm a visual artist, and I have worked in restaurants as well. My life has been about food and performance. I was a bartender and a waiter and a manager. I worked in catering. I worked as an assistant for events. I did video. I worked in styling and makeup. As a typical West Indian, I had about three or five jobs I was juggling at a time. [chuckles]
Sam: Wow, sounds like you've done a lot of work in the fourth dimension.
Shaquanda: Oh, yes.
Sam: [laughs] Definitely. Shaquanda was born at a former bar at the Bowery?
Shaquanda: Yes, there was this bar called The Slide.
Sam: The Slide?
Shaquanda: Yes, it was a really notorious gay bar that had a lot of raunchy stuff happening in terms of the themes of the parties. I was a barback there. One night, this drag queen, who is now my drag mother, Linda Simpson, I was just so enamored by her and the party and the way she hosted this fun event called Gay Jeopardy.
Sam: [laughs] Okay.
Shaquanda: I was like, “I want to do this,” and said, “Can I do this?” She's like, “Would you want to do something funny or would you want to be a drag queen or--” I had done drag before as a Halloween thing, but I always like to say that we've all done drag since we put clothes on, but since we started to put clothes on, this is an interesting way to develop character or another part of my personality, if you will, in this more feminine gaze from a gay male lens. That's how Shaquanda was born, pretty much.
Sam: Yes, it's like an alter ego.
Shaquanda: Yes, exactly.
Sam: Yes, totally. That's awesome. I see that you had a few helping hands in your story. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child.
Sam: When I read your story, there's quite a few people that have come in and helped you get to where you are. As far as the design, I know that when I read that-- I'm sorry. It was Dominic Mondavi?
Shaquanda: Yes, that's correct.
Sam: Helped you with the graphic design, and I see this person was a longtime collaborator, meaning that there were things that you had done in the past. Before it led to this creation of coming up with Shaquanda and the branding, what were some of the things you did leading up to this?
Shaquanda: Our first collaboration started in college where we both went to Parsons, The New School of Design, or did they rename it? It's called The New-- They changed this name three times!
Sam: Something. Different name, same education, right?
Shaquanda: We met at Parsons. I was in fine arts and integrated design curriculum focusing on sustainability, and Dominic was in the communications program. We met in our core class and we had an instant bond, where we both shared a same quirky sense of humor, was really just offbeat humor, worked really hard at all the things that we created even though our aesthetics had some similarities but we're distinctively different.
He made a book and he's like, “Would you want to perform for this book?” We can think of different ways of like each letter of the alphabet. The first collaboration we had was this small 4” x 6″ graphic photo storybook. Then, after that, it became every year, for my birthday, we made t-shirts for everyone. It was this fun and interesting queer exploration of this drag character of mine. Every year, we gave out 20 to 60 t-shirts to people just randomly.
Sam: Wow, t-shirts. I feel like that's such a New York thing. [laughs]
Shaquanda: Yes. [laughs]
Sam: You always see a lot of different styled t-shirts in New York. That's awesome. That's really, really cool. One thing led to another, you're doing shows at this place, so it wasn't always like a hot sauce thing, I'm guessing?
Sam: Because you came up with Shaquanda first.
Sam: Then, as you were doing these shows, what did the shows consist of before you had that aha moment of wanting to create a product?
Shaquanda: My drag has always been less about lip-syncing and more about personal interactions with people. I was hired mostly to host parties. I have done things on the stage, but the stage, for me, is on the ground with everyone else. Bingo would be one of my favorite drag things that I did with my drag mom, Linda Simpson. It was more about being like the Vanna White of the show, but a little bit more hood. I did that for a while. I hosted parties with lots of really legendary nightlife people like Ladyfag and Rainblow, and did all these fun parties, like hosting and being part of the environment and giving and showing people a good time and interacting with people on a personal basis.
Now, when the hot sauce was created, Simon, who I had met in London, completely out of New York City, had moved here and asked me if I could perform in this new party he started throwing called Bushwick. That's where I decided, I was like-- I've been wanting to try this thing with taste and with drag and trying to make the best or most authentic portrait of myself, all these different aspects of my life, like working in restaurants, being of Caribbean descent and being a drag queen and I grew up eating pepper sauce.
The first batch was made to just be like a tasting for people when they would ask me if I was performing, and I'd be like, “Right now.” I would put a dab of hot sauce on a plantain chip or a cracker or one of those buttery crackers, and people were like, “Oh my God, can I buy that?” I was like, “No, you cannot buy that. This is part of my-
Sam: [chuckles] This is my baby.
Shaquanda: -performance." Yes. "This is my performance. I need this.” My friends, who were there with me, were just like, "You got all these bottles, why don't you just sell them?" I didn't even think about-- I didn't even know how to begin pricing.
Shaquanda: I'm just like, "Okay." I ended up like, "Whatever." I started selling them for $3. I had my shopping cart and strolling around the party just sampling hot sauce, and then selling it, and then walking up and down the streets of Bushwick with friends, and they were shouting, "Get your hot sauce. Get your hot sauce," which was a really fun day.
Sam: Yes, I've seen the videos.
Sam: Which you did an awesome job, by the way.
Shaquanda: [laughs] Thank you.
Sam: In a weird, ironic way, you were just doing something as a prop. It's almost like the hot sauce was a prop to your act and what you were doing, and then, people really, really liked it. In a sense, it's like Shaquanda didn't choose hot sauce, hot sauce chose Shaquanda.
Shaquanda: Yes. Isn't that funny?
Sam: Wow. Then, it all became a part of the act together.
Sam: What were the reactions like when you were going around the streets of Bushwick? Correct?
Sam: The streets of Bushwick.
Shaquanda: People were a little bit like-- Yes. They were like, "Ugh."
Sam: Because, as it says, you're giving a performance of the mouth. You're giving them hot sauce, and they're trying it. They've never met you. You're this random person coming up to them in the middle of New York and giving them food, and then walking away.
Shaquanda: Yes, with makeup melting off my face. [laughs]
Sam: And you walk away. Now, is this something that you just did one time or did you continue this marketing tactic for a while, and then, that's how you started to get your name out there?
Shaquanda: I do Bushwick every year.
Shaquanda: It's, I think, going to forever be part-- As long as that party exists, which its a really popular big party now, it's forever part of my story. I show up in drag, not to all the markets, but for a good portion of them. Being in drag is- it's essential to the brand. I do, every so often, go out on the streets with a shopping cart and some sauce. [laughs]
Sam: Just a shopping cart full of hot sauce.
Shaquanda: Yes. [laughs]
Sam: Oh, man. That is awesome. This became pretty easy for you because having that culinary background, you start off with one, and then, I'm sure, as you realized this was a thing, the passion grew, and then, you've expanded it into multiple hot sauces.
Shaquanda: Yes. Now, I have four. I have one that's a take on your typical green sauce but I wanted it to be more Bajan, in the sense, so I added-- We eat pepper sauce on boiled bananas or boiled plantains. I incorporated the plantains and added oregano because really love cooking with oregano. It's one of our herbs. Having that, it became this weird, unique, citrusy sauce. Then, we got a Spicier Smoke one for people who like it a little bit more spicy. I mean, all my sauces are pretty balanced. They're not going to be overwhelmingly hot even though people have been approaching me about making a really, really hot one, which is in the works, but that one scares me. [laughs]
Sam: You see, me, personally, I have friends like that too. They want the type of hot sauce that burns your eyebrows off. To me, I like the way you describe your hot sauce. Obviously, it's called hot sauce for a reason but you like to incorporate flavor and heat.
Sam: Typically, that's the stuff I go for too, but hey, that's the thing about hot sauces, it's like people, you've got a wide variety.
Shaquanda: Yes. I want to make, for the most part, most of my customers happy. I will, in the near future, release a really hot one for those like serious pepper heads that don't mind they're burning butts on a toilet.
Sam: Have you ever been somewhere or gone somewhere and noticed your hot sauce?
Shaquanda: Yes. It always makes me giggle, or people will recognize me from time to time or if I have that- [crosstalk]
Sam: You're famous now.
Shaquanda: No. Yes, sort of. [laughs]
Sam: Locally, yes.
Shaquanda: Locally, yes. I think the Hot Ones really made a-- It was great marketing exposure and that really increased my visibility. It's become a thing. Then I had a post from Ilana on Broad City, who I absolutely-- I love Broad City. I love her humor. I love her as a comedian. I was overjoyed when that came out. Then, my friends will show me pictures of people in random shirts that I have out there in the world. Then, it's just like, they would, "Oh my God, look what I just saw," like, "I saw this kid in the grocery store wearing this shirt," or I'll get a picture-
Sam: That's awesome.
Shaquanda: -of making sauce in someone's house, just like, "Oh my God."
Sam: It's growing.
Shaquanda: I'm just like-- Yes.
Sam: Well, the goal is to get it into some restaurants, right?
Sam: Are you in the restaurants now?
Shaquanda: I have some restaurants, yes.
Sam: Okay, because the restaurant industry in New York, I mean, the opportunities are endless, I feel like.
Shaquanda: Yes. It's a great opportunity for people to try it without committing to buying it because it is hard for consumers to jump to a brand if they haven't had it first or don't know the story about it. For example, I am at Archie's Pizza, and they're in Brooklyn and two locations, and hot sauce is great on pizza, that's a quick way to experience it with delicious, cheesy goodness. Then, the other is at Fat Radish, which is a vegetable-driven or vegetable-focused, farm-to-table restaurant that's been around for a while now and- [crosstalk]
Sam: I like that name, Fat Radish. [laughs] That's awesome. As far as you, personally, making the hot sauce is one thing, what are the type of foods that you like to use your hot sauce on?
Shaquanda: I really enjoy it on pizza. I like to cook with it. I'm really into it for breakfast. Funny enough, I have acid problems. I've always had ulcers and gastritis.
Shaquanda: Maybe which is why I'm not the biggest super hot one. Yes, I like the flavoring aspect of sauces and if it's a profile in a certain cuisine. I love spice and Thai food. Uncle Boons is one of my favorite restaurants in the city. That's the kind of spicy- it's really hot, but it's like a joy and a pleasure because they really know how to balance out all that heat with so many different beautiful flavors.
Sam: And having such a wide cultural background, it makes it easy for you. I've noticed now between Shaquanda, which is very Afrocentric, and then, I know you said you had some Caribbean in there?
Shaquanda: Yes, my family.
Sam: Then, West Indian in there, so I'm like-
Sam: "All right." Do you have a very multicultural family or are you well aware of what your actual heritage is?
Shaquanda: Yes. My family-- I come from-- As you know, when you're of African descent from this side of the hemisphere, it's a lot of different things or, sometimes, it's not. I identify as a Black man or as a Black person, sometimes, a Black woman, I guess.
Shaquanda: I grew up with my mother's side of the family. We are a combination of things from African English, someone's grandparent was from India, just a bunch of different Caribbean of African peoples that were slaves. From my father's side- my father, I didn't grow up with. He's Italian American. That side of my family is very New York, Long Island, White Italian. [laughs]
Sam: Yes. It seems like you have the best of all these different worlds and it all came together to make this culinary experience for the world.
Shaquanda: Yes. I love being half Italian too. Don't get it twisted. I get down with my tomato sauce, my pasta.
Sam: I'm still waiting to come to New York so I can try all the Italian restaurants they have to offer because I- [crosstalk]
Shaquanda: You have to go to il Buco. That one's delicious.
Sam: il Buco? All right, I will do that. Duly noted. Now, you have this baby sitting in your lap, which from the time at first launched made its appearance in 2013 until now, you've been doing this for quite some time. I'm sure it took a while to build and grow it, and it seems like it's really starting to take off now. Do you feel overwhelmed? Do you feel like you have a good game plan on what your future is for Shaquanda and Shaquanda's Hot Sauce? Are you just along for the ride right now? What are you thinking?
Shaquanda: I am overwhelmed, but it's all manageable. I like to think several steps ahead.
Sam: It's a good problem.
Shaquanda: Yes, it is. [laughs] Just figuring out delegation of task and expanding my team. In the beginning, of course, it's very easy to get stuck into wanting to do everything yourself and, at this stage, I'm about to start delegating other things and hire someone, another person, to be part of the team. That is going to be beneficial and also take off a lot of stress. I feel I'm in a lot of ways, very prepared and anticipating future things that need to get done or thinking in possible timelines, thinking of what could happen or what can't happen. As a business owner, we have to think about those things and not be afraid to confront them.
Sam: That's awesome. It seems like this was a product that you just- it was born out of just love for what you like to do, love of the community that you're in, and then, it took off. Now, it's one of those like, "I never expected this to happen, and now, I'm just riding with the cards I'm dealt."
Sam: Which is awesome. Wow. Doing the drag shows, that's obviously how it started, and you're still doing that now, what other type of marketing things do you do to get Shaquanda's name out there and the hot sauce? Are you traveling across the country? Are you still just in New York, marketing? I know that you like to put videos out, which are awesome, where are you going with that now?
Shaquanda: Collaboration with more artists. I have another video that will be out soon with a great artist friend of mine and another artist. It's going to be a little subversive in talking about part of the video in context to queer history and referencing another video. That's going to be coming out shortly. We just have to do a little bit more editing. In terms of marketing in different states, that's something that I'm discussing right now, actually, about doing some tastings in California, and then, going to Nashville, around the South and activating spaces there.
Sam: Okay. Well, hey, everyone in America loves hot sauce, right?
Shaquanda: That's true.
Sam: [chuckles] Going back to your niche audience, for people that are listening into this right now, this is such a unique story, how it came together, unique story, unique product, what would be your advice to them because I know life is a journey, and I'm sure coming about something like this it wasn't easy whether it fell into your lap or not? Is there anything that you want to share if there was someone listening and that maybe is wanting to walk in your shoes or is walking in your shoes?
Shaquanda: Maybe just don't be afraid or shy to ask for help, and just knowing that when you're asking for help, that's taking someone's time and it's really being very thoughtful about that. I feel a lot of people forget about thoughtfulness for other people's time and information and knowledge and how to really use that knowledge, which is important, and keeping a little book and a little notepad or even if you want to keep it on your computer, sure. It's important to start being organized and having this information readily available at times of need and not being afraid to deal with all the paperwork.
It can be intimidating, but there's always resources in the different cities that you're in with any small business district association. They're there to help. Really look around for different programs, either if it's through the library or if you have a mentor or someone that you can have or start a relationship with to get the pointers on how to go forward, and just really knowing about safety, especially if you're going into a food products business, safety is the most important thing, so really making sure that you have all that knowledge and certification first before taking on or tackling new food business plan.
Sam: That's awesome. You're right because, from what I've watched, you're very particular about the ingredients that you use and you make sure you keep it very, very safe.
Sam: Shaquanda, we really enjoy printing your labels. We love seeing them come across the press. Everyone out there right now that is probably- tastebuds are watering right now because they're like, "Man, they've been talking about hot sauce for 45 minutes. I'm going to try this." How do people find you as far as websites, social handles? If the world wants to get in touch with Shaquanda, how do they do that?
Shaquanda: Well, they can find me on Instagram, @shaquandawillfeedyou, or online at www.shaquandawillfeedyou.com. You can also find my products-- I have a stockist online so you can see where to find it. It needs to be updated, but as of right now, it's like, there's things there, and then, you can also go to Heatonist, which is H-E-A-T-O-N-I-S-T.com.
Sam: Yes, that's right, because you were featured on the show.
Shaquanda: That's right.
Sam: That's great.
Shaquanda: Yes, they've been so amazing. Since the start of my business, they've been super helpful. Noah's been such a dream to work with. I'm very happy and very lucky to be in good spirits with them and doing business with them.
Sam: Well, you seem like you're on the right track and you're well on your way to success. We thank you again for taking the time to talk with us because we know New York time is money.
Sam: To all out there listening right now, these are the type of stories we love, very unique and we're all about business marketing and growth. Every sticker has a story, what is yours? Thank you, Shaquanda, and we look forward to talking to you again real soon.
Announcer: That wraps up this episode of Stickers on the Mic, brought to you by stickergiant.com. You can download us on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, SoundCloud, or your favorite podcatcher. If you enjoy what you're hearing, please leave us a review. It helps us reach new listeners and share our customers' stickers stories and if you're inspired to create your own stickers or labels, head over to stickergiant.com to check out our options.
Thanks again for listening to Stickers on the Mic.
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