Posted September 18, 2005 by Nick Lindauer in Makers

Who is Dave?

Dave HirschkopDave Hirschkop is the man behind Dave’s Gourmet. When you meet Dave at a trade show, don’t expect to shake his hand. This is because he’ll be wearing a straitjacket while standing before a simulated insane asylum to promote his popular line of “Insanity” hot sauces.

Hirschkop has become a living testament to the power of personal branding. His company, Dave’s Gourmet, Inc., steps to the front of the crowded hot sauce category, while his brand identity has resulted in fiercely loyal customers and great media exposure.

“When people eventually meet me, they expect to find a wild man who wants to burn everything in sight,” Dave says, “but I’m just a normal guy with a sense of humor who went into my business and created my brand by accident. It was sort of a joke.”

Dave’s “Insanity” sauces came into existence when he owned a small Mexican restaurant near the University of Maryland. Late at night, a number of Dave’s patrons were usually drunk and troublesome. “I discovered that when I’d feed drunks my hot sauce, they either left or became extremely quiet. The hotter the sauce, the faster drunk patrons left.”

This gave Dave an idea about how he could become a standout maker of hot sauces in an already-crowded market: make the hottest sauce possible, even hotter than people really liked! Instead of promising sensual pleasure, he promised pain, even danger-but pain that came with bragging rights. Nevertheless, it took him a while to realize that he had to be really extreme. “At first, nobody wanted the sauce, and we got no respect. We decided we’d really need to hammer people.”

When Dave introduced his Insanity Sauce at the National Fiery Foods Show in New Mexico, he made attendees sign a release form before tasting from a bottle that came in a coffin-like box wrapped with yellow police tape.

His Insanity Reserve hot sauce is still the brand leader, so fiery that he doesn’t recommend it for human consumption. His best, if unintended, publicity coup happened when a show promoter had a minor respiratory problem after tasting his sauce, and banned him from the show. “That really had a part in our growing popularity,” says Dave. “Although you’d have to be insane to eat some of my products, they get people talking.”

“I think personal branding works because America wants entrepreneurs to succeed,” says Dave. “There are a lot of competitors in hot sauce. We outsell them because they can identify us. We have a certain cachet in our brand.”

The more he personalizes his business, the more people gravitate to his products. “People feel like they know me,” says Dave. “We get calls at 3:00 AM on our voice mail saying, ‘Dave, man, you burned me!’ I think my all-American name helps, but it’s really because we use our smallness and specialty in ways that corporate giants can’t touch.”

Dave's Gourmet Logo

Beyond hot sauces, Dave’s Gourmet is expanding thier brand to include Palette Fine Foods. Under this logo, the company has begun producing a line of fine syrups, jellies, honeys and rubs. And don’t forget Dave’s Premium Organic Pasta sauces!

Nick Lindauer

The Original Hot Sauce Blog