In a piquant episode of the CNBC series Make It, accidental entrepreneur Mike Kurtz of Mike’s Hot Honey explained how he turned a side hobby while apprenticing under Paulie Gee at his famous pizzeria in Greenpoint, Brooklyn into a multi-million dollar business. Kurtz explained how he got the idea for his unique formulation.
While studying Portuguese in Brazil in the fall of 2003, inspiration struck. I was hiking with some friends and on the last day of our hike, we descended into a little valley and found a pizzeria there, and there were jars of honey with chili peppers on the tables for drizzling on the pizza. The first time I tasted the combination of honey and chili peppers on pizza, it blew my mind. I just couldn’t shake the memory of it…
After introducing it to customers in 2010, Mikes Hot Honey took off locally.
Early on in his apprenticeship, Mike brought Paulie the honey he had been working on for years. And brought it in for Paulie to try. He tasted it. He started drizzling it on a hot soppressata pizza, which we later called the Hellboy, and asked me if I could make it for the restaurant to drizzle on the pizzas. Soon customers were asking to purchase bottles of Mike’s Hot Honey. At this time, I was making Mike’s Hot Honey in smallbatches, one gallon at a time in the back of the pizzeria.
As his business began to grow beyond Brooklyn and New York City, Kurtz realized that he wanted to remain true to his original and hard-earned dream.
There’s a lot of temptation to grow brands through flavor innovation and new flavor profiles, but what we realized is that Mike’s Hot Honey was a very novel product that many people had never tasted, and we realized that there was a lot of room for growth just on that core product. So instead of extending into other flavor profiles, we grew the brand by price and pack innovation, and we made it available in as many different pack sizes for as many different usage occasions as possible.