I’m so excited to announce the Big Island Small Business Interview Series! I’ll be conducting interviews with small business owners that are totally rocking the Big Island business world, in hopes that they can share their stories, experiences, and insight, and inspire other local entrepreneurs. First up: Da Big Island Burn!
A couple weeks ago (ahh, time you sneaky thing) I got to sit down with friend and fellow business owner Erin Byrne, to kickoff this series by getting the low down on her locally made hot sauce company, Da Big Island Burn. Erin — thank you for being my guinea pig!
Da Big Island Burn blends all your favorite local Hawaiian fruits — pineapple, papaya, mango, lilikoi — with Hawaiian chili peppers and local organic honey to create a deliciously spicy taste of the Hawaiian Islands. Umm…yes please. Even for someone like me, who shies away from spicy food, can find something not just tolerable in terms of heat, but flavorful and tasty. My personal favorite is the mango pineapple.
Some of you may know Erin’s friendly face from one of the many events, festivals, and markets she attends on a regular basis. She is absolutely hustling and her hot sauce is all over the Big Island! Oh and did I mention? It’s so, so good. Like, award-winning good.
Check out my interview with Erin below, and be sure to stop in, say hi, and try her incredible hot sauce at one of the next events around town!
So, how did Da Big Island Burn come to be?
I’ve always loved hot sauce, it’s been my thing ever since I was a kid. I remember when my dad was in the first Gulf War, and they had the MRES or meals ready to eat. And in those, they had little bottles of Tabasco sauce. He would save those and send them home to me. It was a thing between my dad and I.
And when people go away and they bring me back stuff, it’s always hot sauce. So when I moved here, I was kind of bummed trying to find local hot sauce.
But then our neighbor had a mango tree that was going off. He was bringing over boxes of mangoes everyday. I made mango sorbet, mango salsa, and then I thought, mango hot sauce! And that just kind of opened my eyes to all other possibilities. And I went with it.
Every business owner has their own motivations. Sometimes it’s the fact that there is a lack of something and the ability to fill that niche. Or it could be because they’re passionate about it and they see an opportunity. With me, it’s a combination of both. The passion came first, and then I realized there’s a need for it. And it rolled from there.
What is your favorite aspect of running a business in Hawaii?
I like that we live in a place that people come to visit. Some people save their whole lives to come and visit here. I think it’s really cool that they can take something of mine back with them that they’re excited about. I’ve literally had people from Germany, Australia, Japan, Korea, China, Mexico — all over!
What do you feel is your best marketing tool?
Word of mouth here in Hawaii is really good. And I try to use Instagram and Facebook, but not too much. I probably don’t do it enough, because I don’t want to always be on there. For me, word of mouth or the Kailua Village Stroll. People will come by and get a bottle, and then a month later, I’ll get an order online from those same people. Whenever I get an online order, I always ask how they heard of us, and 9 times out of 10 it’s through the Village Stroll.
What do you think is the most difficult part of running and/or marketing a small biz in Hawaii?
There is no one source for information here. If I want to know what day a festival is, I have to check 5 different websites, check the paper, and then I still may have missed it. I find that there’s no one stop shop for events or local news.
How do people find out about me when nobody knows when this mango festival is? How do I reach people that aren’t my followers on Facebook or Instagram? A lot of times people don’t know about certain events or festivals. I find that I have to work extra hard to overcome that, and make sure people know. That’s the biggest problem. There’s no consistent source to let people know what’s going on. There are a few calendars, but you really have to dig.
When you create something new like your award-winning Kona Coffee Kick, how many test runs do you do? Do you do this for hours?
Every time I make anything or do a test — I write down everything. The date, and how many bottles I made. I put notes, like if it’s too hot. The Kona Coffee Kick only took 3 test runs. I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out what’s going to work. When I first started it, it was more like a bbq sauce. And then I made it again, and it came out different. I had reduced it more, so it was thicker. So then, I tweaked it, added some sweetness and I came up with that.
I’ve been having a hard time finding Hawaiian chilis. I’m going to have people start growing them for me. The most popular one is Burn Da Mouth and that uses so many Hawaiian chilis. But I can’t change the recipe. People like it, and that’s why people come back. So when I come up with new ones, I try not to use so many chilis. Or use different kinds of chilis.
Do you have any good stories from sampling your hot sauces?
I have a Pineapple Lilikoi one which is a medium one, and I have one called Kopiana that uses scorpion peppers, so it’s hot. The two are completely different in terms of heat. I had this guy at an event, and I was telling him about Kopiana and how hot it is. And he tasted it, and he said, “that’s really disappointing.”
And I thought, that was weird, but we continued on and he walked away. As we continued sampling, I realized that when we washed the lids to the jars before the event, they had gotten switched accidentally on the Pineapple Lilkoi and the Kopiana. So he was expecting this punch of heat, but he really got a medium. And all the people who were expecting a medium, had been getting the super hot Kopiana.