to dance, without music

Once I assured myself Jeff’s mask situation was secure, I headed to the other end of our house. Out of courtesy. I doubt my husband would have woken up if I’d exercised my option to use our en suite. Since he was solidly sleeping, I didn’t want to take the chance.

By the end of August 2019, with the help of Jeff’s Salsapalooza plan, our still relatively tiny store (although, comparatively, a mansion to our minuscule starter-store) had broken even YTD. We were unbelievably ecstatic knowing we’d be heading into the holiday season in great shape.

Yes, we’d have to work hard to keep the momentum going. Hopefully, we’d need to keep purchasing stock. The final quarter of 2006 could be significantly profitable, fuel the future of our business and solidify our dream.

With any luck, MHSC could conceivably close out non-red in just our third year.

Of course, we weren’t planning on letting it be a luck thing. We’d never leave it up to that. It would be a face-to-face, phone-to-phone, email-to-email, direct mailbox mail, somewhat prehistoric print, semi-regular radio, and weekly BNI thing.

That same year, we’d also created a postcard mailing advert for Jeff’s next fantastic idea – Sauce of the Month Club. We simultaneously debuted the program in our web-store.

When the very first participant signed up and purchased the plan on-line, it was a banner day.

Jeff was hilariously giddy, grinning from ear to ear. I was right there with him because he waited until I got home to tell me.

“You’re the first person I’m telling this to,” Jeff started out of the office, as I came in the front door. Opening his arms wide, he declared. “I wanted to celebrate this with just us.”

Without knowing what we were celebrating, I jumped in for a hug. Once he had me in his arms, Jeff began to dance. I followed his lead, without any music, while he explained.

I smiled up at my love, as we took waltzing steps. Without any music, I got to thinking. Jeff took one look at my face and figured out I was contemplating.

“Now, now, now,” he admonished, with over-dramatic fake seriousness. “Don’t worry about any of this,” he confidently continued, clasping our hands over his heart. “I already talked to the guy and it’s a present for his Dad.”

“We made a list of stuff he’d like!” he beamed. “And, get this… he might even get his Dad to come in with him to get it each month. So, we might not need to do any mailing!”

Quote for the Week: 2019 08 27 to dance without music jakorte

Smokin’ Sweet

Jeff would probably be unhappy that I am sharing these photos.

He adamantly wanted to be cremated, no open casket. “So, no one will have to carry my lard-a**,” he insisted. And, because he didn’t want people to remember him that way.

But, for those of us who loved him, I’m pretty sure we’re not going to get stuck on that. We’re going to be too enraptured by his normal, larger than life joy.

And for those of you who didn’t know him, I hope you might start to feel like you did. 

There are a couple things worth pointing out.

1. He’s got hot sauce everywhere!

2. Some of those spots left slight burn marks on him.

3. That’s his Dad, Roger, in the background. 

4.  Dale Jr. Budweiser hat, MHSC embroidered logo shirt, half-wrapped legs, socks with sandals, and pukka shell choker which he would argue was definitely not a “necklace.’

5. Bottles of varying Scoville. Only a few I can make out: Michigan Hot Sauce Club, Ass-Kickin’, Bee Sting, El Yucateco, and one hot sauce bottle with an eyedropper – most likely Blair’s Reserve or Dave’s Ultimate Insanity – waivers required.

6. A craft table, a tasting table, and the flatbed, still attached to the truck. I still have an awesome handmade raised-potting bed, which I keep full of artificial plants, including a pretty realistic hot pepper pot.

The hard work Jeff put in was impressive.  Even as far back as my initial hesitation, my heart and gut were already swaying me. Not specifically knowing what lay ahead, I somehow chose the path of no-regret.

Following Jeff, I did my best to run behind him and jump ahead of him; proud of his accomplishment and thrilled that most of my worrying was for naught. 

The end result was a jump-up in community awareness and an amazing increase in sales. The financial risk paid off. By the end of August 2006, in just our third operational year, we had broken even  – for the year. Before the holiday season had begun!

The success was smokin’ sweet. We did it, but couldn’t have without  huge amounts of help from friends and family, Tecumseh and Adrian small business owners, and BNI members. Most importantly, we did it together. 

2018 11 13 salsapalooza event

 

Peppered; with Doubt

Truthfully, I still doubted we’d be able to pull it off, but Jeff’s enthusiasm continued to rise.

A few things made it easier for me to delegate. Trust that he’d try. Lack of Time I could devote. And a little bit of doubt that it could be accomplished in the first place. I figured the worst that could happen was we’d have to cancel. But, then, we’d at least have a head-start on planning for it next year. 

With a detailed list of questions and tasks, I handed Jeff the reins and went along for the ride.

Have you gotten permission from the mall?

Will it hurt the other stores’ business or are they ok with it?

Power – can we run bounce houses and band at the same time without blowing out the mall?

What type of permits do we need?

What type of permits do our table/craft people need to have?

Is there be enough parking in our small lot?

Do we need traffic control on the busy two-lane highway?

Are we sure the tables and chairs and tents will be at no cost?

Who will judge the homemade salsas, and how many judges do we need?

How will we handle entries so that it is an anonymous vote?

Do we want to categorize? Sweet salsa, savory salsa, spicier than normal salsa?

Should we ask winners or all entrants to share their recipes, so we can include them in the next monthly newsletter? What is the prize?

Who will handle hot sauce eating and contest registrations, run the register?

Decide how many fan favorites we want to have people voting on? 5? 10?

Then, invite suppliers to provide one type of salsa product for tasting,  let them know the votes will be 25 cents each and donated to ARC. Might need a few jars from each.

Revise the regular waiver for extreme heat sales to address participation in the hot sauce eating contest.

What are the prizes? One winner or 1st, 2nd, 3rd?

Update the membership list, add new customers.

What do we want to say in our mailing to members? On website? On radio?

Do we want to give a discount or a special favor to our members? Do we want to include this for new sign-ups on the day of the event, too?

Can we really use ‘palooza’?

I’d like to change the name from Sauceapalooza to Salsapalooza. Our store name has hot sauce in it, so that part will be obvious. Not everyone likes hot sauce, but most people like salsa. Plus, it would encourage salsa entries.

What if it rains? Or pours? Or is windy? Or nobody comes?

By the conclusion of one more BNI meeting, in one week, he got it all done, all laid out and all planned. Except for the weather, of course.

Quote for the Week:

2018 11 20 two things make it easier to delegate

Lasagna-nipulation

“Lasagna. It’s not ready, yet. So, wait a minute!” “Ooooh,” I cooed. “I love lasagna! Garlic bread, too?”

Jeff grabbed my hand. “Of course! Listen to this…”

“The bounce houses can be free. They said so, because it would be good advertising for them. Someone has a flat-bed trailer with a generator that we can borrow to put a band on.” 

“Would you be able to hear a band over a generator?” I asked.

“I imagine so,” Jeff replied. “He’s used it for parades and even Apple-umpkin, once.”

He went on. “We can use the tents for free, but we have to pay for the labor to set them up. I don’t think we can do that ourselves.” “No,” I agreed. “We definitely cannot do that ourselves.”

He just kept going like a linebacker sized Energizer bunny. “And the broadcast would be included as part of an advertising package to promote it!”

“You’ve already started this.” I stated.

“Yep.”

“And you’ve done all that?” I stared at Jeff.

“Yep,” he beamed. “Did it all today, and I’m going to ask for donations of salsa and sauce from our suppliers, since it’s a fund raiser, too!”

I was about to tell Jeff I still didn’t think we could afford all that, when the oven timer went off.

He let go of my hand, and chattered happily as he headed toward the oven. “You go change out of your work clothes. I’ll get dinner on the table.” 

I spent my changing time going over all of the known and unknown components of this oversized crazy venture.

Even while I was seeing dollar signs, I was thinking of Jeff’s exuberance. He’d checked the availability for a lot of things, and the best date was only a few weeks away? Could we pull something this large off in just about three weeks? “Well,” I reasoned with myself, “we did open the store in about three weeks…”

“You know,” I commented as I sat down to one of my favorite dinners. “We might be able to do something like that… just a lot smaller to start with.”

“We’ll see.” Jeff said.

“I guess we’ll have to sit down and make a list of questions and things that need to get done.” I countered.

“Ok,” he agreed. “Let’s eat!”

Quote for the Week:

2018 11 05 Food is an amusingly underestimated jakorte

 

Sauce-a Huh?

We had a store coach. A fellow BNI member, with tons of enthusiasm.  He and Jeff got together once a month to brain storm. Jeff would bring him our ideas, and our monthly advertising budget. How much we spent didn’t exactly have a direct correlation to how much we earned. Mostly, we spent more on inventory than marketing. Some months, we’d spend more on advertising and less on product.

Jeff was super excited when I got home from work that day. In the meeting they had dreamt big. Then bigger; then bigger, yet. As he talked, it became clear he wasn’t really thinking budget.

The idea we had agreed to investigate further was to invite as many local non-chain restauranteurs as possible to a salsa meet-and-greet. Of course, there’d be tastings. Hopefully, some bulk sales, too. Serving salsa wasn’t an issue, we were licensed for that having taken the Lenawee County Health Department’s Food Safety course.  

When Jeff mentioned a local wine-maker and declared we could give samples of that, too, I had to stop him. “Um,” I said. “We don’t have a permit for that.” “I’ll check that out,” Jeff made a note. “Maybe he could do the samples for his own stuff.”

“Anyway,” he continued. “That’s not all of it.” He shuffled some papers around. “Here’s what I think we should do.” The title of the hand-written (almost illegibly scribbled, truly) was Sauce-a-Palooza. “I’m not sure we can use the ‘palooza’ part.” I interjected. “Might be copyrighted.”

“Ok,” he waved his hands. “But, that’s not all of it.”

“All of it” entailed tents, tables for crafters or businesses, a homemade salsa contest, hot sauce eating contest, bounce houses, live music, a live radio broadcast, and 20 different kinds of salsa for a vote-for-your-favorite American Red Cross fundraiser.  Each salsa would have a mason jar next to it. Each vote was 25 cents, but folks could put as much as they wanted over that in, too. The salsa with the most money in their jar would be the winner.

“The winner of what?” I asked. “No, wait… never mind that. Do you have any idea how much it costs just to rent tents? Do we need a permit for that? Live music? Where would we get a power source? I have no idea how much those bouncy things cost.  Do you?”

“Well,” Jeff was getting ready to explain, when I cut him off, again.

“Do we really want to serve homemade salsa from people we don’t know? We can’t just set out jars of salsa and let them sit there all day. We’d need to keep them cool. We’re gonna need to hire help for all this.” I took a deep breath. “Oh, no.” I reported. “We can’t possibly afford all that.”

“Well,” Jeff started.

“Maybe next year.” I emphatically ended the conversation, before adding, “So, what’s for dinner?”

Quote for the Week:

10 29 2018 There are only two types of business people jakorte

 

All Fired Up!

When Jeff had a dream, he dreamt big. He’d laugh and call it a vision.

And it would always begin with, “Suppose…”

All of our Michigan Hot Sauce Club store open house events began that way. We held tastings. Jeff made snappy dips, fiery cheeseballs and poured crab salsa over cream cheese. We’d line up 5 jars of salsa or 5 bottles of hot sauce or 5 bowls of fiery snacks/candy/cookies, labeling each with a heat index. Mostly, to protect the mild lovers from accidentally dipping into anything Blair’s or Dave’s Insanity.

He developed some unique chili – bean and corn, no-bean burger, smoked jalapeno brisket, and an amazing white bean chicken bright green chili, that took its color from an awesome sauce named Swap Scum.

My favorite heated creation was the Spicy Texas Sheet cake.  Such a perfect combination of cocoa and sugar and spice. I tried to make it once without him. It just wasn’t the same. I followed his recipe verbatim, but it lacked Jeff’s magic touch.

That’s not a flighty compliment. I firmly believe everything came out scrumptious simply because Jeff believed it would. Just as I know, he truly meant it when he said everything will be fine, even though it most likely wouldn’t. It was an admirable trait, which occasionally annoyed me to exasperation.

Yes, GOD would provide, but He gave us brains to figure out how we could help ourselves, as well. I was a disaster planner. Jeff was a ‘let’s see how this goes’ guy. Stress begets stress, but Jeff deflected well.

I’d say, “If this… then that.” He’d say, “Ok.”

I’d say, “But, if that, then this other thing.” Jeff would say, “Ok.”

I’d say, “Unless that other thing turns into another thing.” Jeff would say, “Let’s just see what happens.”

His weekly BNI meeting had incubated an idea he was all fired-up about. Pun intended; that was Jeff’s favorite tag line.

In fact, each meeting he would come up with a variation or punny description. “MHSC, the biggest little hot sauce store east of the Mississippi!” On Thanksgiving, it was the biggest little hot sauce store west of Turkey. On Halloween, it was the scariest little hot sauce store in Tecumseh. It became his trademark – members would look forward to what he would say next.

One evening, I came home to Jeff’s biggest “Suppose…”, yet.

Quote for the Week:

2018 10 23 theres no reason to dream small jakorte

Gingerbread (Hot House)

I can’t place the timing, which always irks me. I wouldn’t even be questioning the timing, if there hadn’t been that recent ‘50 years ago’ today newspaper story. That startled me into a memory, too.

I know what happened, but I’m not always sure how or why what happened, happened. So, on that note, I confess: I’m not at all sure how I got to the beginning point of the story I’m about to tell you. Obviously, some things had to have happened first.

Like the conversation, Jeff and I had. That’s easy enough to recall, because… Wait, wait. It could have been something that came up in a BNI meeting, but it would have had to occur at the end of September 2006. I can’t help thinking that would have been pretty far in advance. I suppose, though, as area business were looking ahead to the holiday season, it might not have been unreasonable announce plans for an open-house and contest.

It’s something Jeff and I talked about, were excited about and planned to do: enter a gingerbread house contest at a local, main street yarn store. I’m sure they carried more than yarn, but the first time I entered the shop wasn’t to shop. I was there to drop off our creation. Near tears, I didn’t linger.

Physically, it was only my creation, assembled in the weeks following Jeff’s death. I didn’t have much time, and I’d never made a gingerbread house, before. The ideas and enthusiasm were just as much shared as everything in our lives was.

Jeff started it, so I expected Jeff would be making it, too. But, there I was, a few weeks into widowhood, thinking about how much fun it would have been to do it together. Perhaps, well probably, I was still in a sort of shock. Functioning and trying to keep moving along. I decided to keep the plan, and set out into the internet world of gingerbread and patterns and royal icing.

My edges weren’t straight, my technique was terrible. My royal icing either didn’t harden fast enough or hardened too fast to use. Eventually, I baked and sugar-solder assembled on a plain cardboard base something that happily looked like a lot house. I stared at the pile of decorations I’d amassed and the naked shell for a while wondering, “Now, what?”

I decided to let the structural bones set-up overnight and dragged out the top of our Tupperware cake carrier to protect it.

Quote for the Week: 

2018 01 02 A good overnight set could either make a lot jakorte

Bonus Photo & Story:

Tecumseh Herald Gingerbread House Jeff and Eric 1967