Monday, March 30, 2015

DEFCON Interview NYC Hot Sauce Expo 2015 Vendor

DEFCON Interview:
John Dilley
Defcon Sauces

Foodie and Hot Sauce Blog NYC/BRONX

1.  John, what is the inspiration to make hot sauce and spicy food for your business?
We're having a ball. This industry is truly unique, as are the customers. I think it's the industry itself that gives me my inspiration. 10 years ago, when we first started up, I had no idea there were so many awesome friends that I hadn't met yet. When we joined the Hot Sauce Manufacturer ranks, we were taken in almost immediately. It's this camaraderie that makes me proud to be a part of something like this. In talking to the manufacturers that have been around a lot longer than us, their help and guidance in the initial years has proven invaluable. Being part of this industry is the inspiration in itself.

2.  What is the road that led you to open Defcon Sauces?
I had been making wing sauces since the very early 90's, after having an order of wings once and thinking to myself, "Hey, I could make something that tastes better than this", and the gears of the mind began to spin. I would serve them at our rather large Superbowl parties. It's a great venue to serve them at, I mean, come on, a bunch of drunk idiots eating wings. They will be completely honest, and they were. Early on the stuff pretty much sucked, but after a few years of tweaking, I finally got it right. By 2004, I was selling the wing sauces to friends and family for parties, and over a couple beers with a buddy of mine, he suggested I start up a company.

I looked at him like he had 2 heads, "I'm a finance guy, what the Hell do I know about starting up a food company?" His answer was simple, "Well, if you don't try, you'll never know if you're missing out on an opportunity". Well, that pretty much did it for me. I took this idea home to the Awesome Wife Unit, Maggie, and told her the idea. Her only question was, "How much is it going to cost?" Well, my answer was very simple, "I don’t have a clue". Needless to say, about 5-6 months later, Defcon Sauces, LLC was born, and we've never looked back.

Allen of Two Frys and John from DEFCON Expo 2013
3.  What is the secret of your success selling Hot wing sauces?
We're not normal. At the larger trade shows, you have a ton of vendors there, with very simple booths, and normally a company t-shirt and jeans. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But we don't go by the same rulebook. Early on, we decided to make ourselves stand out, in a way no other company that I knew of had. Our booths were friggin' light shows, with laser projectors, enough blacklight to get a tan, plasma generators, strobes, etc, with a dude (myself) dressed up in Mad Max meets the Matrix retro-future wear.

When we appeared on the scene, it was like an explosion. Many of the veteran vendors saw us as just another flash in the pan. However, when we started winning a TON of awards at the larger shows, well, they came to realize, we're like Herpes, and we're not going away. Flash is great, but you have to have good products to back up the bling, we do.

4.   What is the most satisfying thing about what you do, bringing the heat to people?
When they hand me cash, LOL! I think it's hearing someone, who has never heard of us before, try their first sample, and say stuff like, "My God, I can't believe I never heard of you guys, this stuff is great!", and we now have a customer for life.

5.  What is the number of hot wing sauces/products Defcon Sauces has available and some of your hottest selling names?
We currently have eight, we will have nine as of the 3rd Annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo, when we unleash the brand new CURBSTOMP Wing Sauce upon the public. If you also count our very limited edition ZERO, which is only available sporadically, I guess we would have ten.

We have four (soon to be five) Wing Sauces, which are based on traditional Buffalo-Style flavors:
The Defense Condition #3 is our mild, with just a little Cayenne pepper
The Defense Condition #2 is our medium, with a good dose of Cayenne pepper
The Defense Condition #1, where we mix Cayenne and Habanero peppers
The Cluckwing Orange, Cayenne, Habanero and Trinidad Scorpion peppers
And the CURBSTOMP, soon to be released at the NYC Hot Sauce Expo, with a mix of Cayenne, Habanero, Trinidad Scorpion and Carolina Reaper peppers. Yeah, it's evil!

Then we have our rather well-known Habanero Horseradishes:
Habby Pony – Our mild Horseradish
Habby Horse – Our hot Horseradish

And then our dry rubs:
Smokey Dust, a mild Buffalo-style powder with a hint of Chipotle, great on popcorn and steak
Contaminated Soil – A mix of 8 of the hottest peppers available, good in tequila

We have some other stuff in the works, always do, but that discussion is for another day.

DEFCON Booth 2014 Expo NYC, Wings Sauces and Horseradishes.
6.   What is your favorite type of fruit and/or vegetable?
Not really into fruits I'm afraid, but when it comes to vegetables, I'm old school. I’m constantly coming up with different ways to prepare some of my favorites like Broccoli, Lima Beans, Collard Greens and Black-Eyed Peas.

7.   What is your favorite type of hot sauce, extreme or mild?
Depends on the time of day, I’ll do a mild in the morning and then amp up the heat as the day progresses.

8.  What is your favorite type of BBQ sauce, spicy or sweet?
Honestly, I don't use much BBQ sauce, as I prefer dry rubs. There are some good ones out there I must say though. Tom's Roid-Rippin Mesquite is quite good, as is Cajun Island's Blackened Bourbon Sauce, which is more of a glaze. There are a few whose names escape me at the minute, but those 2 are my most used.

9.  What are some of your favorite small batch hot sauce companies?
There are a bunch of them, each with their own twist on reality. Silverleaf, Race City, Heartbreaking Dawns, Cajohns, High River, Hoboken Eddie, and many more. Each has their own spin on things, which is why I love this industry. Small batch is where it’s at.

2014 Seasoning Offerings from DEFCON, Be sure to get Contaminated Soil.
10.  Defcon Sauces, how many events do you attend each year?
I do a bunch of Farmers Markets on the weekend, and we cater a number of parties (nothing like having your own wingman at a party), but actual hot sauce events, we've throttled back quite a bit in the last few years. It used to be that you HAD to go to the Albuquerque show and Zest Fest in Texas. However, a bunch of regional shows have popped up in the last few years. For one, the regional shows cost a LOT less to do, and, at least in my view, much more personal. The fact you don't have to buy airfare, lodging, freight to and from, drayage, car rental, massive booth fees, etc, well, saving a few thousand dollars is always a good thing, right?

We will be at a handful of shows this year, including the 3rd Annual Hot Sauce Expo in Brooklyn, the 2nd Annual Kempton Pepper jam in Kempton, PA, and the 20th Annual Chili pepper Festival in Bowers, PA. That's really about it. Between farmers markets (which are amazingly lucrative), private events and town festivals, we're always doing something.

11.  John, what is the hottest hot sauce you’ve ever tried?
Pure Capsaicin crystal. In the immortal words of Joe Piscopo in Johnny Dangerously, "Once". Heat is nice, but when the heat tastes like the inside of a chemical drum, the heat doesn't matter anymore. There are plenty of chemical extract products on the market, but most of them have the bouquet of a Monsanto plant, and the flavor profile of a tailings pond in August. I think the market is steering away from the stupidly hot stuff, and moving in a direction where flavor is much more important that blowing your face off. Will there always be a Chilihead Nation? Of course there will, however, in the broad scope, a vast majority of people can't handle that kind of heat, and will steer clear of it.

There will always be a place for the novelty sauces, but I think the market share is shrinking. I know that at least in my experience, most people want stuff to taste good, not just be mind-numbingly hot.

12.  Do you believe that hot sauce is good for you and others health?
Absolutely! It's proven that it is. From prostate cancer to sore joints, capsaicin is one of Nature's little miracles.

13.  What are your plans for Defcon Sauces in the future?
Besides Global Domination? I just see the same we've been doing all along, slow and steady growth. We are having a great time being part of this industry. As I told the Awesome Wife Unit, Maggie many years ago, "Once this is no longer fun, we will close the door, look back and say, man what a ride". However, there is still plenty of tread left on these tires, and the road stretches to the horizon.

We will come out with new ideas for products, and at the same time will always enjoy selling our old reliable goods to the masses that have been blessed with good tastebuds. Defcon Sauces is an experiment, an experiment which allows us to go in any direction we choose to go. We have made a true mark on the industry, and will continue to do so.

DEFCON Lineup snap we took at their 2014 Expo booth NYC.
14.  How many times have you been a vendor at the NYC Hot Sauce Expo?
This will be our 3rd year. We've been at every one of them, and they have grown to epic proportions. Steve Seabury, who heads up the show, must be commended on his work. His labors have really come to fruition, and in a VERY tough geographical location, in the heart New York City. We love doing this show, as the vendors are treated as VIP's, something lacking in a few of the other larger shows. He keeps the show costs way down as well. For those coming from far away states, keeping costs down is a key factor to whether or not you're going to do the show or not.

When I'm doing a show I have to fly out too, if I'm going to have to drop $5000+ for a show weekend (all costs included, even beer), I want to make sure I can make the money back, and that's a lot of $6 bottles to sell to make it up. I think that's a fact some other shows overlook, the fact that many, if not most, of the vendors at these events, really scrape together funds to do the larger shows. If the show bombs, which they occasionally do, it's a MASSIVE punch to the wallet of these small companies. Over the years, I have received dozens of calls from new companies, asking which shows I would suggest doing. My first response is stay as local as possible at first, and with the number of regional shows popping up around the country, this is becoming more and more of a reality for them.

Throw in the fact that many manufacturers, the company is in addition to their regular job, like myself, and the Awesome Wife Unit, Maggie (Hell, I haven't had more than 4 days off in a row in 10 years), the vacation days are beyond luxury items, and to have them used up to lose money after busting your butt for 2-3 days at a trade show, well, it just sucks. This is explained in depth by a number of guests I've had on my radio show, DEFCON-versations. To hear it from a number of other manufacturers really brings the fact home.

15.  How do you like the amount of fans and vendors that this great event brings together in one place?
It's an amazing asymmetrical cross-cut of the populous. The NYC Foodie is a rough person to impress. Mix that with the fact, there are only about 45-50 vendors, hand-picked by Steve to be the best of the best of the industry, well, I think some call it kismet, other call it f**kin awesome. I didn't talk to one person that had a bad time at either of the first two shows. The show is run to make sure both vendors and attendees have a good time, and aren't merely walking ticket sales.

16.  How can our Two Frys readers order your sauces and products?
There are a few ways. The easiest would be go to the website, If you're looking to see where to get our stuff locally, go to the website, and click on "Where Else To Buy". This lists most places we know of that carry our stuff. There are many more, these are just the ones we know of. If you're local to NJ, stop by a Farmers Market. On Saturdays, I hop between Metuchen, NJ and Allendale, NJ every other week, and on Sundays, I set up camp in Chester, NJ. I'm finishing up the calendar of events on the website, so it'll be available soon.
Defcon Award winning sauces.
17. Any closing comments for our readers about your products and what they should try?
Interesting question. Considering all of our products have taken multiple awards should definitely say something about the quality of our products. Our wing sauces are our biggest seller, for obvious reasons, they're very good. As with all types of our products, we offer levels of heat, which allows many more people to enjoy Defcon products. My personal favorite is the Defense Condition #2 Wing Sauce. It's got a nice little cayenne kick, and you won’t hurt yourself consuming a large pile of wings. I like the Habby Horse, our hot Habanero Horseradish on deli sandwiches, pastrami, or prime rib. With the Dry Rubs, I like the Smokey Dust on popcorn mainly, but it also holds up quite well on pork ribs, while the Contaminated Soil, having a good-sized heat kick, is very good in a Bloody Mary, or rimming a tequila shot, but also is awesome on beef ribs.

I suggest people give our stuff a shot, as we are proof that good stuff comes out of New Jersey every once in a while.

DEFCON Creator out……

Thanks to John the DEFCON Creator for the Informative interview, Allen at Two Frys

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