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Meet Daniel Urbaetis and Rebecca Urbaetis of Awesome Hot Sauce Store & Semper Fry

Today we’d like to introduce you to Daniel Urbaetis and Rebecca Urbaetis.

Daniel and Rebecca, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I grew up in my family’s Italian restaurant in Upstate New York. I have always been surrounded by passionate people and amazing cooks. Of course, I was all too eager to begin experimenting with the craft myself. Since I was 14 I had been making hot sauce. I began my path by recreating a sauce my Dad made that I loved. After years and years of cultivating, and retooling the recipe, it had become a sought after item at family & friend gatherings. I would get requests to make the sauce for parties, graduations, etc.

I went on to do other things like join the US Coast Guard, finished college, wrote a couple books, and worked at a mortgage company, but I always continued to experiment with new food recipes, and also to make hot sauce. I am in my realm in the kitchen. It’s where I go to be, and to express myself. Eventually I think everyone comes to a point where they have to either accept where they’re heading, or make a change for themselves. I always knew I wanted to start my own business, but the final push to do so came after 5 years working as an apprentice in the Electrician’s Union. I wasn’t getting any younger, and so I motivated myself to overcome further hesitation. In early 2013 I applied for my business license for Semper Fry, LLC. It was a slow start. It took me awhile to get accepted into the farmers markets. I only attended weekend markets at first, while still grinding it out at the day job all week.
After a couple special events at wineries, I landed a spot in a Saturday market. Then, through an unbelievable stroke of luck I managed to get wedged into the Sunday Hillcrest market. For the first time in my life I experienced true fulfillment and happiness in an occupation. This was tough work that I could do tirelessly because I enjoyed it so much. As time went on, the smile on my face grew more and more. It really had nothing to do with money. I was only slightly ahead of my bills, and was able to buy a junk car. It was nice that I could sustain life doing something fun, but the thrill for me came in the passion I had for every aspect of the business. All the creativity it allowed me to explore was the real treasure. I’ve always been overcome by tons of ideas, and now I had an outlet. Not only that, but I could make those ideas come to life! That means the world to someone with an extremely active Autistic/Asperger’s mind like myself. I went from just one sauce variety and a hotter version of it, to 4 varieties… Then to 8, and these days, Rebecca and I are cranking out 31 original hot sauce varieties. She’s also the creator of our spicy honey, spicy fudge, and a brand new line of spicy hard candy and lollipops!

We met when I was about a year into the business. I had already left my union job at the shock and horror of my family back east, and I was attending as many as 6 farmers market per week all over San Diego County. It turned out Rebecca was also extremely creative and had a lot of ideas. We hit it off very quickly. She was and is beautiful on the inside and out. Awesome Hot Sauce is not only a small business story, but there’s a love story woven into the fabric as well. In fact our very first date was on Friday the 13th of June 2014. It was a rare “Honey Moon” celestial event that night that isn’t supposed to occur again until 2098!

She quickly became an integral part of everything I was working on. She created new label layouts for our products. We wrote creative descriptions for each, and I was even encouraged to draw some of our label images. We went to each market full of energy and excitement. For us just sharing something that we created from the ground-up was a thrill. We literally created the business out of nothing but ideas, a vision, and our belief in said ideas. It was very rewarding when people started warming up to us–all puns intended. Our loyal customer base grew and grew. We’d even take their suggestions and sometimes a new hot sauce would result from their input and our own culinary ideas.
Shift Scene to a normal Friday afternoon in Imperial Beach, when a very kind, polite gentleman came up to our booth to sample our products. He tasted maybe just 4 or five varieties, but we described the rest of them to him. He excused himself and was heading away. A little while later he returned and asked us a question that I would later reflect on as the moment that changed our lives. “How would you feel about running your own store?” I may be paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it.

We had just been offered a spot in the most perfect location in all of San Diego for a hot sauce store: Old Town’s Fiesta de Reyes! I remember visiting Old Town 15 years prior to that when I was roaming the area in my Coast Guard uniform. I wasn’t even living in San Diego back then. Now I was sitting in an office there about to learn the details of the offer that would place our little hot sauce gig at center-stage.

Rebecca and I entered our new store and began setting up on July 2nd 2015. Exactly one year later we’d be in Grossmont Hospital welcoming our daughter into the world. Our daughter’s birthday is same day as the anniversary of our store. This entire story is one of amazement. Maybe I’m just that appreciative and humble, but the course of events that have taken place since I finally made a decision to do this business, have been almost unbelievable. The amount of circumstances that had to line up so perfectly for each element to make way for the next the way it did fascinates me. We had been given this unique opportunity to earn the privilege of being part of Fiesta de Reyes, and we did not disappoint. We continue to work very hard day-in and day-out to ensure that. We even manned and operated the store mostly ourselves the first year.

To this day Rebecca and I happily and gratefully do the work of about a dozen people each. This is a real small business, American Dream type of story. Awesome Hot Sauce is a veteran-owned, husband & wife team. We make & offer 31 of our own varieties of gourmet, small batch hot sauce. We create seasonal spicy fudge and spicy hard candies as well. In addition to what we make, we also carry a hand-selected collection of commercial hot sauces from other manufacturers. We find the best tasting, the most rare, and the most exotic sauces to help fill the shelves of our store. We also carry products from other local businesses like Jackie’s Jams. We firmly believe in the adage, “Your success is my success,” and we support & promote the friends we made from the farmers market days.

Our goal is to just keep up with the growing demand, to never try to grow faster than what’s naturally happening, and to have this keep on going so that one day our daughter and her older brother can work with us, express their creativity, and eventually take hold of the reins. Perhaps there will be more stores in the future, but we’re not in a hurry to do that. This experience has taught us that if it’s supposed to happen it will on its own time.

I get excited telling this story. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to do so again. So much has happened since our KUSI interview. It’s nice to look back every so often and really see where we are and where we were.

Has it been a smooth road?
The toughest part were the years spent not doing the business, but rather trying to figure out what it was I wanted. I wrote/write a lot so I thought I was going to become a career author or screenwriter eventually. I’ve always had a lighter comedic way of viewing life so I would write stories with funny scenarios. I’m a bit of a cartoonist too, so then I figured maybe I would pair my passion for writing with drawing and that would pan out into something fulfilling. I had a real clear vision of me doing something that would allow me to exercise and utilize all the thoughts zooming through my head. I could write lyrics, but I’m a novice musician. What was it I was going to do? When I walked through my first farmers market in Hillcrest, it became clear. The other thing I loved to do all the time was to create in the kitchen. I must have watched 4 seasons of Shark Tank after that for motivation. I then discarded Shark Tank because if I was going to do this, I was going to do this. I didn’t want outside investors telling me how to do it. I wasn’t interested in a boss, nor was I interested in giving away a chunk of what I worked for. If it was to be my creative energy, it would also be my vision. The universe is funny. Once you actually choose a path, it gets out of your way and lets you pursue it, usually with strokes of luck and help along the way. My theory is that we get in our own way a lot and when we get out of our way we see how life can really be. When I set out to make Awesome Hot Sauce San Diego’s newest favorite hot sauce, I never imagined the process would help me exercise so many of my creative muscles. I got to create a website and Facebook page. I got to write descriptions for the sauces in my own words. I was able to draw some of the sauce labels, and design a logo. And I even got to brainstorm and develop new culinary hot sauce enigmas.

Business itself is tough. The bigger guy likes to create rules to keep the little guy stuck idling. I think I have had an atypical experience because of my mindset. My goals are different than most. I like sharing my interests with people. I don’t care if I can’t stuff a mattress with money at the end of the day. The thing I did have to learn that I never wanted to learn, and never accepted as a virtue was patience. I wasn’t impatient with how quickly I was growing. I was impatient with how things are run in the world. The whole autistic influence of being unable to accept that which makes NO SENSE was tough to deal with. Lots of things are backward and you expose yourself to more and more nonsense when you have to interact with these powers to get what you need. Most people can’t even spell my name right on a document.

Getting into good farmers markets was a challenge, but a fun one. And getting a better spot at the good ones was something I was happy to earn over time. I never had a “gimme gimme” attitude at any time in my life.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Awesome Hot Sauce Store & Semper Fry – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
My wife and I are the creators of Awesome Hot Sauce with a store in Old Town San Diego by the same name. We created and offer 31 varieties of our own brand of hot sauce. We also offer other commercial brand hot sauces from other companies the way a specialty grocery store would. We just came out with a spicy candy line and seasonally we make a spicy fudge as well.

Our HummZinger hot sauce was a World Hot Sauce Award winner. It ranked in the top 3 out of 280 sauces from 14 countries.

I’m most proud/grateful to be able to work on creative projects that excite me. I’m doubly proud to be able to do so with my wife. Someday our daughter and her older brother will be able to join us in this family activity.

What sets us apart are our goals. We’re not going to compromise quality for more profit. We are proud of our product quality and keeping it that way is why I never will get involved with outside investors. We care about our sauces too much for anyone to suggest we cut corners. If it takes more time and effort for us to maintain the quality our customers appreciate, then so be it. We love what we do.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I love the beaches, the weather, the rock climbing and rappelling opportunities of the landscape… I like the excitement of a city having come from a very small Upstate NY town, but I still appreciate peace and quiet when I’m at home or relaxing. I dislike the political side of things. It’s a nice place until someone speaks.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
We took the pictures Daniel and Rebecca Urbaetis

Getting in touch: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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