Meet Your Maker #14 – Loco Luna Brian
His name is Brian Moon. He’s a little eccentric, extremely passionate, and perhaps a little too competitive when it comes to hot sauce. Okay, he’s a borderline crackpot. Anyway, the Spanish word for “moon” is “luna.” The clinical term for Brian’s condition is “loco.” Loco Luna. Crazy Moon. Get it?
Brian is an entrepreneur who has parlayed his love of hot sauce into a burgeoning condiment empire. Now, let’s hear from the man himself.
1. Why hot sauce? Where did the idea come from for you to get involved doing this?
I’d have to say that the love of food is my inspiration for starting this crazy journey. Being a Texan, spicy foods are a major part of my culinary life. I’ve made salsa for my personal consumption and that of my friends for years, but hot sauce seems to go beyond salsa in that it has the ability to almost create a cult following. It has room for interesting, creative labels and marketing, and innovative spice blends. You get to bring something new to people’s palates and the more you hurt ’em, the more they seem to love you! So you see, you’ve got great spicy food, you’ve got the cult thing, and my last name is ‘Moon’. At that point, hot sauce became an obvious choice. We are the Luna-tics! Consider yourself warned.
2. If you had to pick a favorite sauce of yours, which would it be?
We currently offer 4 sauces with progressively higher heat levels, but essentially the same flavor profile. I’d have to go with the Lava ‘Hot’ as my current favorite. For me, it is the right combination of flavorful fresh ingredients and enough heat to let you know it’s there. It’s versatile enough to go with most everything (just read some of the testimonials on this blog) and it adds a nice flavor to whatever it’s eaten with.
3. Any new products we should be ready for from your line?
Definitely! The next thing you will see is a collectible, limited edition, signed and numbered sauce in a special commemorative bottle for Zest Fest 2006. This is our first show to be exhibitors, so we want to have something a little special on hand. The sauce is hot, and so is the look! We’ll also have some new t-shirts for the show! Loco Luna will be at booth #720. Come see us!
Also, I’m in negotiations with a major unnamed convenience store for a “Lava” slurpee! Or maybe that was what I was dreaming about last night”¦ sometimes it’s hard to tell!
4. Where do you see the future of hot sauce 5 years from now? 10? 20?
It is hard to be sure, but probably we’ll be eating hot sauce in outer space by then. The industry is growing quickly and the demographic trends that support it seem to be here to stay. I think that the industry will continue to develop new flavorful sauces and my hope is that outlets such as this will continue to thrive and support the upstart sauce makers. This will keep the industry fresh, innovative and it’ll keep the old guard on their toes too! Heat alone is no longer enough. People want flavor. The future looks bright for the industry to be sure, so maybe hot sauce will become a new addition to the food pyramid!
5. What is your favorite sauce that you don’t make?
Other than Lava Gourmet Hot Sauce, I really like Mo Hotta Mo Betta Chipotle Adobo Hot Sauce. It isn’t really too hot, but the flavor is amazing. I love the smokiness and it is really good with Tex-Mex. There are also a ton of great sauces that I see reviewed here that I’m dying to try. I’m constantly impressed by the variety of sauces available these days.
6. Do you eat the sauce you make?
Heck yes! I eat it daily as do most of my family and lots of my friends. I also tend to carry a bottle with me wherever I go so that I can lure a new Luna-tic into the fold! I’m a hot sauce evangelist ““ remember the cult thing?
7. What do you eat hot sauce on?
Versatility is one of the great strengths of the Lava Gourmet Hot Sauce line. It’s rich and flavorful enough to be delicious as a dipping sauce with chips (like a salsa), chicken, Tex-Mex or most anything else. It also makes a great grilling sauce or marinade for most any meat or vegetable. It is also great with eggs for breakfast, on popcorn and it makes a mean Bloody Mary. We’ve got a number of recipes on our website, www.locoluna.net that might even shed a little more light on this discussion.
8. What sets you aside from the other hot sauce producers out there today?
There are many fine sauces out there these days that cater to many chilehead needs and desires. Many manufactures have a lot to be proud of, so I’m not going to pretend that I’m the only one, but Loco Luna Gourmet Foods really is all about flavor. We strive for flavor with fresh ingredients of the highest quality, offering more than just heat and vinegar. What we have achieved I think is a balance of flavors with satisfying heat. Heat is great, but flavor is king here. We have four heat levels, but nothing that is really XXX hot. I’ll do a super-hot one of these days, but for now, the focus is clearly on flavor with satisfying heat. I wanted this to be a line of sauces that could be usable every day by a wide section of the population. I think we met our goal. That being said, I’ve seen people cry while eating the ‘Mild’ Lava Sauce. Maybe they were tears of joy? It is hard to be sure.
9. What is your inspiration before you embark on a new concoction?
Hunger of course! I may see something new in the spice section of the local market or I may see something on the Food Network that looks particularly interesting. Sometimes it’s a cookbook. I like to experiment and create flavors and sensations that I really enjoy, then I’ll test it out on those around me. Usually it works out pretty well!
10. Outside of creating hot products, what else keeps you occupied or out of trouble?
Who said anything about staying out of trouble? Actually I do a number of things. I ran a computer game company for a number of years and I still consult in that industry. I also am doing a few other tech deals, so that keeps me going. I guess I like being an entrepreneur, or maybe I’m just unemployable at this point! I have a wife and three daughters, so they keep me pretty well occupied also. My girls are very active and I coach one of their soccer teams. I cook a fair amount and I’m a big fan of the Dallas Cowboys and Manchester United. I’m into cycling. I also love history and I love to travel, as you’ve probably noticed if you’ve been to www.locoluna.net. Life is good!
11. Any weird stories or uses for your hot sauce that you would like to share?
I always love hearing from people that have tried Lava Gourmet Hot Sauce in a new way. I get emails reasonably often and some of the stories are pretty interesting, not to mention surprising. One couple used Lava Sauce in some pretty bizarre ways on their honeymoon, but we can’t really get into that here. Let’s just say it was HOT! Another guy wrote to tell me that Lava sauce makes a great aphrodisiac. I don’t know about that, but he’s another satisfied customer!
12. How much sauce do you make in a week?
Not enough! We’re still rather young in the biz and we are always looking for more distribution outlets. Sales is a constant focus. We do make enough sauce to keep us busy and our restaurants, grocers other clients and belly’s stocked up. I’m anxiously working toward the point that this is truly a full time job.
13. How many different recipes do you go through when developing a new sauce?
It varies, but the honest answer is “as many as it takes to get it right”. First, I have to like it. Then I need to pass it by some other loyal testers. These are generally people that I’ve know for a long time and whose opinions I trust. I gather their thoughts and take their suggestions and decide if any tweaks need to be made based upon their comments. The process continues until I’m comfortable with the result. We don’t want just good. We want great.
14. How did you get started in the industry?
This is a long story, but the steps were basically passion, inspiration, development, testing and lots of talking. I benefited from the advice of a lot of friendly people along the way regarding everything from how to get ingredients to how to obtain a license, to label development and much more. My tech background helped in the website development side, and persistence really paid off on the rest. I’ve made a lot of calls, sent a lot of emails and spent a lot more than I expected, but it has been well worth it. I’ve found this to be a great industry with fiercely loyal fans and manufacturers. It truly is a community and Loco Luna is proud to be a part of it.
15. What is your biggest challenge so far?
I think that one of the biggest challenges for any young company is to create brand recognition. Branding is incredibly powerful and can generate tremendous loyalty and buzz. It is something that has to be nurtured and feed after it is developed, or it can quickly disappear. We started with gorilla marketing techniques, and have tried to move it forward from their.
16. What is the most common question you get?
The most common question has to be “Can I try some?” Our answer is always positive and the response is usually quite positive as well. Like all good pushers, the first hit is free! People sometimes ask if I’m Hispanic because of the company name. I explain that my last name is Moon and then the tie to the company name usually clicks.
17. What do you want to know from the readers of the HSB?
I learn a lot from the readers and contributors to the HSB. There are a large number of people here that have incredible knowledge about chilies, sauces and just about any aspect of the business you could ever think of. I have spoken to or exchanged email with many of them and I must say that they are a very gracious, generous and informative lot. I appreciate their insights and knowledge and I’m always looking to learn more about what folks like and why, whether it is the product itself or the way it is presented. I’ve found that everyone pretty much has their own idea as to what makes a hot sauce great, so it is always interesting to get additional opinions on things.
18. What’s a typical day for you?
I tend to get up early and get help get my girls ready for school, eat breakfast (usually eggs with some Lava Sauce) and get to work. Hot sauce is involved all along the way! I try to spend some time with family and friends along the way as well. I’ve found work to be fun if it involves your passions.
19. Worst burn ever?
I guess you never forget your first ““ mine was on Dave’s Insanity back in early 1998. I had no idea hot sauces could be so hot! I almost got sick and couldn’t taste anything else for a while. My sinuses immediately became amazingly clear, though. I must say that I was quite impressed. There was also that first fresh habanero, but that’s another story”¦
20. Best burn ever?
My best burn would have to be the first time I pounded down too much of our product. It was right after I decided on the final recipe and I got a little bit excited. Let’s just say that trying to chug a bottle of sauce was a bit too aggressive. It was a great feeling to know that I’d created something really tasty, even if I felt like my tongue was melting! It’s also great when you hear that your passion has been embraced by the chilehead community at large. Thanks HSB and all of my fellow and future Luna-tics everywhere! The best is yet to come!
Our current product line includes:
- Lava Gourmet Hot Sauce ““ Mild
- Lava Gourmet Hot Sauce ““ Medium
- Lava Gourmet Hot Sauce ““ Hot
- Lava Gourmet Hot Sauce ““ Extreme
- Lava Festival Reserve ““ available in limited supply at Zest Fest 2006
Chileheads can purchase Lava Sauce at leading grocery stores, gift and gourmet shops across the country. Loco Luna Gourmet Foods can also be found on the Web at www.locoluna.net, www.sweatnspice.com and other leading internet retailers. A full list of stores is available at Loco Luna online.