Making a Hot Sauce Business Stand Out – An Interview with Cynthia Riddle

Today, we talk to small business owner, Cynthia Riddle. Cynthia helped to create Brother Bru Bru’s African Hot Pepper Sauce. Below, she shares her insights on being successful in this competitive industry and provides tips to other entrepreneurs.

Tell us how you got involved with Brother Bru Bru’s African Hot Pepper Sauce.

I had worked for years in the natural products industry, when my friend Bruce Langhorne asked me to help him formulate a hot sauce that was salt-free, sugar-free and gluten-free. He had just gotten diagnosed with high blood pressure and wanted something to liven up his meals without all the salt that traditional hot sauces had in them.

We got a bunch of peppers and some exotic spices from Africa, and blended them together in his kitchen, with blenders whirring and pepper powder permeating the air. (In hind sight, goggles would have been a good idea!)  Eventually we came up with something we loved – Brother Bru Bru’s African Hot Pepper Sauce.

Bruce was primarily a musician so for him, making the hot sauce was a dietary excursion and a hobby. But his friends loved the “Bru” and begged for some of their own, so he started producing enough for everyone. I helped him launch the business in 1992, and then stepped back into other pursuits. Fourteen years later, when Bruce got sick, I came back to run the company.

What has been the most successful activity you’ve done to increase word-of-mouth?

The most successful part of our word-of-mouth campaign has been for people to meet Bruce. He’s a huge spirit with an incredible heart, and practically everyone who has ever met him or spoken with him on the phone remembers him.

“If he were to walk in right now and you didn’t see Bruce, you would feel his presence,” shared Peter Fonda (for whom Bruce composed the soundtrack for The Hired Hand). “Bruce just emanates love and kindness, in addition to being a virtuoso on like 50 string instruments.”  That is Bruce’s legacy and one we try and continue, to treat each one of our customers with great care and kindness.

What do you plan to do to get your unique message across and stay ahead of the competition?

The hot sauce market is incredibly competitive. But somehow, we have remained near the top of the pack, and that is with no absolutely marketing. I think it is because people recognize quality, and we really deliver it.

We use the very best ingredients and the most expensive peppers in our sauces. You can get hot sauces that are a lot cheaper, but Bru Bru’s has flavor without overwhelming you with the heat. As one of our “fans” said, “It appears to be made out of concentrated awesome.”  After almost 20 years, and a loyal following, we are just now expanding our line to include two new flavors (Organic African Chipotle Pepper Sauce and Organic African Chili Pepper Sauce).  Both have been produced in accordance with the USDA’s National Organic Program and Certified Organic by Quality Assurance International. It was a difficult and time-consuming process, but we are happy with the results – two really great new additions to our line.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs who are trying to get their products on store shelves?

My advice is to produce to the highest standards, and to produce products which support the health of individuals and the planet. That is the definition of “right livelihood,” to do something at which you can be successful, which also benefits individuals and society.

If you had to start the business over, what one thing would you avoid doing?I would get help at the beginning to set up computer systems that would work as the business grows. For example, I have different files on my laptop and my desktop, and it would benefit me to have an integrated system of file management.

What insights and tips would you like to share with new entrepreneurs pursuing their business dreams?

Ask for advice and mentoring. Find a Small Business Development Center (SBDC) near your home, and get involved with them

Find mentors in your own industry or one that is similar, and go to trade shows. Keep business cards, and follow up with people. Develop relationships. Be open to magic.

For me, that means going to a trade show, looking in people’s eyes and seeing who is drawn to meet me.  Or it shows up on airplanes, as I talk to the person next to me and find the most amazing ways our paths connect.

On a recent flight from Los Angeles to Boston, I sat next to a man who had been in California for a wedding.  The father of the bride, it turned out, had a chocolate-making company and imported fair-trade cocoa from Africa. He had a supplier in Africa who knew about the African spices I needed for my “Bru.”.   Well, you get the drift. Open up and see what connections are there behind the “strangers” who show up in your life.  And while you’re at it, enjoy the journey.

Thanks for your great insights Cynthia! For more information about Brother Bru Bru’s, visit

And if you have questions about promoting your small business, please write to me here or at

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