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Friday, December 18, 2015

Therése F. Baron - Baron's International Kitchen

Pin It Therése F. Baron - Baron's International Kitchen, Inc.

Therése F. Baron, Baron's International Kitchen
Below is an in depth interview with Therése F. Baron, Founder, President and Head Chef of Baron's International Kitchen, Inc. We met a few years ago at one of the hot sauce events in NY, and Allen and me love the product line and company. The quality of the ingredients and the bold and rich flavors are top notch. Baron's International Kitchen started in 2003 and is headquartered in New York's Ulster County, in the heart of the beautiful Hudson Valley.

Therése, what have you been up to since I saw you at the last Hot Sauce Expo in Brooklyn? There's always so much going on with running and growing the business. We're available in a few more outlets- in New York City, Brooklyn and now Long Island too. We're also at select Market32 gourmet supermarket locations and we recently shipped our first international order. It's a very exciting time!

Baron's International Kitchen product line
That is great, congrats! Can you tell me about the evolution of Baron's International Kitchen? Baron's International Kitchen started out as an idea- something I'd like to do one day maybe when I retire. I've been cooking for as long as I can remember. Among my earliest childhood memories are cooking at my Mom's side on my stepping stool, learning how to season sauces and other foods. I'm of Scottish, Portuguese, and Caribbean descent, with extended family and friends from many different cultures. I have always been exposed to a variety of delicious authentically/traditionally prepared foods.  Throughout the years, cooking developed into a hobby for me.

I didn't start out on a food career path though. I had been a Marketing executive in start up telecommunications and computer companies. I loved it but I always said, one day, when I retired I'd start a gourmet/specialty food business to share my love of cooking and all these amazing family recipes. The opportunity came sooner than I expected when the "dot com bubble" burst in the early 2000s and the startup I was working for hit tight financial times and reduced their workforce. After I was laid off, I was not able to find a job. One day my husband said, "You're always talking about how one day you're gonna start that gourmet specialty food business…why not do it now?"

To learn about commercial specialty food production, I volunteered for a year and a half at Hudson Valley FOODWORKS, a then non-profit organization located in the Empire Development Zone in Poughkeepsie, NY. The organization has since closed but was a shared-use commercial kitchen dedicated to supporting start-up and growing specialty food businesses and creating jobs for local residents. In fact, the organization had become a national model for "kitchen incubators" or shared-use commercial kitchens as tools for redevelopment in the Hudson Valley and it had helped start or expand over 100 specialty food businesses. I learned a lot- not only about food production but also sourcing, labeling, food marketing, sales strategy and a whole lot more.

From there, we were ready to launch the product line in 2010. In the beginning, I sure cooked a lot. I made everything myself in a local commercial kitchen during the overnight and then visited retailers during the day on sales calls and deliveries. Our products were only available then online and in local specialty shops here in the Hudson Valley. Now, we're in specialty retailers from Albany to NYC, in a handful of select retailers across the US and we just shipped our first international order. When I look back at the evolution of Baron's International Kitchen, through all the bumps and twists and turns we've weathered along this journey, I still can't believe how far we've come from that initial idea to an actual company. I'm most grateful for all the support and positive energy of our friends, family and colleagues without whom I couldn't have come this far.

Therése, NYC Hot Sauce Expo, 2015
How has your experience as a former Marketing Executive helped the company? My marketing experience has been so valuable on many different levels. From a more general perspective, my marketing experience had been in startups, primarily. I enjoyed the energy, fast pace and flexibility and I suppose that influenced me throughout my marketing career to seek out startups. This experience certainly prepared me well for what the life of an entrepreneur is like.

The type of work I performed- writing websites and brochures, supporting sales teams, doing trade shows and events, choosing suppliers for goods and services and a variety of other things, gave me practical knowledge, skills and abilities. In addition to these more practical things, I learned that paramount to any company’s success is a high-quality product and quick customer responsiveness and I'd seen the valuable of relationships with peers and colleagues and even customers.

Baron's International Kitchen, NYC Hot Sauce Expo, 2015
Please tell me about your product line and your inspiration for each, and which is your top seller? My main inspiration has always been to share the amazing authentic flavors I grew up with, with the world. My product line contains 4 items. There's the Caribbean Jerk Sauce Marinades in hot and mild varieties, Portuguese Relish and Caribbean Hot Sauce. The jerk sauces are brown sugar, cinnamon, sweet and savory. The balance of fresh cucumber and zingy mustard give my Caribbean Hot Sauce a delectable and distinctively refreshing flavor. The sweet and tangy Portuguese Repolho Relish is so tasty, folks complain they end up eating the whole jar once they open it. It feels GREAT that others are enjoying my family's recipes as much as we do!

With the exception of the Mild Jerk Sauce, these are foods I enjoyed when I was growing up. I was inspired to create a mild version of the Jerk Sauce so I could share the delicious flavor of this amazing cooking sauce and marinade (which traditionally is habañero hot) with many more people. I know not everyone enjoys very spicy foods. Cooking from an early age taught me that quality, fresh, local ingredients deliver amazing authentic flavor so I've been inspired I suppose to stay true to those traditional values by using only the freshest and highest quality ingredients to deliver the most amazing taste and delicious flavors. This has begun to win us accolades.

You may have seen the image on our company facebook page- of the fresh ingredients…it's from a batch of Caribbean Hot Sauce I was making. I became so overwhelmed by the amazing color and aroma of all the fresh ingredients I had just chopped, I had to snap that shot. It's been up for years but it just so well captures the freshness of what we're using to make our products and the quality that goes into making them that we haven't changed the image.

The Hot Jerk Sauce Marinade is our second best seller; our top seller is the Caribbean Hot Sauce- both are pretty spicy. Since not everyone enjoys spicy food, my product line also includes foods that are not or are mildly spicy. My sweet and tangy Portuguese Repolho Relish has no heat, while the mild Jerk Sauce Marinade introduces a little heat.

As I became a mom who works full-time and who is always short on time, it also became really important to me that my products all be easy to use and nutritious too. Everything is quick and easy to use right out of the jar and the Jerk Sauces work triple duty as a marinade/steak sauce, sandwich spread and dip. Over the coming year, I'd like to add more of our family recipes to the library on the website, so other busy working moms can have options- a fresh take on the same old chicken, beef, pork, fish and veggies. All will be quick and delicious authentic international meals, some they'll be able to make in little to no time.

Caribbean Marinade great on ribs (pictured), Baron's International Kitchen
Have you won any awards? The Jerk Sauces have won 2 awards so far- voted Best Wing Sauce of the Hudson Valley and we also picked up iloveitspicy.com's best Caribbean Hot Jerk Marinade award. Aside from the awards, my products are also consistently highly rated and reviewed for great taste and outstanding flavor and we've also been featured in some of the local press. It is so rewarding to get this recognition.

Can you talk about your former work with FOODWORKS and what from your time there carried over into Baron's International Kitchen. FOODWORKS was the first major step along the road to getting started. It's where I gained initial knowledge about the specialty food industry such as licensing, commercial food production and food safety, figuring out product packaging and labels, pricing, brochures and a lot of the practical things I would need to know to get started. It's also where I first met and connected with people who were doing what I wanted to do. The people I met then, many of whom are still friends today, are an invaluable source of support, advice and inspiration and I'm so thankful to have met and gotten to know each and every one of them.

Are there commercial kitchens in the Hudson Valley area, and do you utilize one for your business? There are some commercial kitchens here in the Hudson Valley and throughout the wider NY tri-state area. These can be found in specialty food resource guides or listing services or with a quick Google search for shared use commercial kitchens or incubators. When we first started out and I was making all the products myself, in rented commercial kitchen space. Now that I have the assistance of a co-packer, the products are all produced in their commercial kitchen facility.

Ribs (pictured) with Caribbean Marinade, Baron's International Kitchen
As a woman in this business, what do you think is the biggest challenge you face? No doubt about it, starting any business is wrought with all kinds of challenges. I suppose my biggest challenge would be how to balance running my business with being a mom of 2 young children and making time for my husband, family and myself. I'm so busy, all the time. Juggling all the things I have to do on any given day can be quite stressful.

I love companies as yours that offer high quality small batch products. Was this a conscious route for you rather than going the commercial production route? That's a really great question, Sophia. For me, it's always been about making high quality products that taste amazing and authentic so since the beginning, I made a conscious decision to stay true to the authenticity of the recipes by using quality fresh ingredients and local too whenever possible.

I was so obsessed in the beginning that I HAD to make everything myself in order to ensure a high quality product, that I had to peel every onion and chop every habañero and this was really limiting how much the company was able to grow. A co-packer was able to help. We still produce in small batches by hand, but now we can make a high quality product and get it to more outlets quickly.

I feel your diverse cultural background shines through in your products. Can you tell me how you take from each when you create your recipes? Well, as traditional family foods, these were all existing recipes, all that is except for the Mild Caribbean Jerk Sauce Marinade, which I mentioned earlier. It was tough to decide which products to launch with but in the end I settled on 4. I figured I'd be learning a lot and likely making a few mistakes too and I wanted to keep everything from being too overwhelming, especially as I was just getting started. The 4 products in my line are among my absolute favorite family foods, of which there are many. I plan to add more products to the line in the future, stay tuned for more news on that.

I cannot wait. What is your favorite pepper and why? I have to admit, the old classic is still my favorite- the habañero. I’ve been enjoying habañeros since I was a child so maybe I'm a little biased. I like other chile peppers but the habañero has the right level of heat and a really nice flavor. For me, heat is good but it's always about the flavor. I love the sweet burn of a delectably flavorful sauce.

Hawaiian Burgers (pictured) with Caribbean Hot Sauce, Baron's International Kitchen
Is your husband involved in the company? If so, what role does he play? Oh yes, Sophia. I couldn't do this without him. He encouraged me to start the company and he's so much more than just a co-founder. He helps make sure our technology is working, he does most of our social media and with so much going on for me every day on the sales and operations side, he helps me stay on track.

What is a typical work day for you? LOL! No such thing as a "typical" day. Every day is busy, every day is different… I may be out meeting folks at in store demos or events, sharing recipes and culinary memories. I could be visiting retail store clients to see how they're doing and dropping off orders. I might be at a local farm buying fresh habañeros, in my home office taking care of payables and receivables and ordering office supplies or shipping online orders. Wearing so many different hats can be stressful and it's certainly fast paced and hectic. To be resilient, it helps to be flexible.

Will you be a vendor at any upcoming hot sauce related expos/events? If so, which ones and how important is it for your company? This upcoming Spring, look for us at the 2016 NYC Hot Sauce Expo with Steve Seabury of High River Sauces and the gang. That's always a good time. We're also looking at maybe 1 or 2 out of state expos. Updates on all that will come out on our social media feeds. Expos are really important and for me they're one of the more fun aspects. We get to meet and connect with a lot of other people who love food and introduce them to our products, we get a chance to see peers and colleagues we haven't seen in a while and we get to learn about some of the newest trends happening in the industry.

We will see you soon at the NYC Hot Sauce Expo. Therése, what advice can you offer to aspiring women interested in breaking into the hot sauce world? Don't get discouraged. When first starting out, it can seem intimidating, overwhelming and even a bit scary. I remember how overwhelming this all was for me when I was first getting started. I think among the most important is to not try and do it all yourself. Get help and assistance from others, get to know some of your peers and rely on their experience for guidance. This will be an invaluable source of advice and inspiration. I have also benefitted from a Certified Business Advisor. Here in NY, their services are provided free of charge by the SBDC. Working with a Certified Business Advisor helped us avoid some of the common and typical pitfalls of first time business owners.

I realize this may sound a little cliché but perhaps the most important thing is to believe in yourself and that you can do it! Having that confidence that you can make it happen will inspire you through the bumps and obstacles you may encounter along the way.

Thanks for the amazing interview. How can Two Frys readers order your products? Our online storefront at BaronsInternationalKitchen.com is open 24 X 7 X 365. There, my products are always in stock, including several gourmet gift set options. For party sizes of the Jerk marinades (gallon and half gallon), send us an email. We hope to add party sizes to the online store in the coming year.

-Sophia/Two Frys

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