¡Muy caliente!

Stay-at-home dad spices up his life with California Habanero Blends

HE’S REALLY COOKIN’<br>Tim Sharkey has turned sauces cooked up in his Chico kitchen into a product line carried by retailers and restaurants across Northern California.

Tim Sharkey has turned sauces cooked up in his Chico kitchen into a product line carried by retailers and restaurants across Northern California.

Photo By Toni Scott

Check him out!
Tim Sharkey’s Web site (www.californiablends.com) features not only his products, but also animated representations of Hot Sauce Man himself.

Three years ago, Tim Sharkey had a full-time job as a stay-at-home dad. His wife, Jenny, works as executive director of the First 5 Yuba Commission, which focuses on early childhood development in Yuba County, so child care clearly wasn’t a place to cut corners.

Still, even full-time workers get breaks, and Sharkey found himself “looking for a hobby that wasn’t too loud or noisy that would disrupt the kids.”

The Sharkeys often attended barbecues and fondue parties. He liked to experiment with sauces, and he’d always bring his latest concoction.

“People would ask to take some home with them or ask me to make some especially for them,” Sharkey said. “And some even wanted to pay me for it.”

Realizing he might have a popular product on his hands, and prodded by his cousins, Sharkey looked into what it would take to expand his kitchen hobby into a full-fledged business.

The result: California Habanero Blends, a line of sauces carried in North State stores and restaurants—and now Raley’s markets and Bay Area shops.

Sharkey took advantage of the Tri-County Economic Development Corp., a nonprofit that helps small businesses in Butte, Glenn and Tehama counties secure loans and meet other needs. He filled out a survey online but thought little of it until he got a letter saying he had received a grant for 300 hours of marketing consultation with The Chico Project.

With that professional help, Sharkey was able to hold focus groups, develop a product line and design the packaging for his sauces. He ultimately decided to market the three sauces that are sold today: Chipotle, Garlic Key Lime and Ginger Garlic.

Sharkey took the sauces—and often his children—to local grocery stores and restaurants, asking managers to try them. S&S Market was the first to climb on board, and many others followed suit.

Rich Kusie, one of Burger Hut’s family owners, said he and his staff liked the sauce so much they decided to make room for it on their condiment bar.

“Tim is a local guy with a local product, so we decided to give the sauce a try,” Kusie said. “It’s pretty popular now with our customers.”

Thus, a year later, the North State restaurant chain still is buying California Habanero Blends. And soon, 60 Raley’s stores from Redding to Vacaville will be stocking their shelves with his products. “This pretty much tells me that this business works,” Sharkey said.

Sharkey sold $30,000 worth of the sauces in 2007, his “test year.” For a man who is first and foremost a dad—to 6-year-old Makala and 4-year-old Johnny—this type of success is something he never thought possible.

“Three years ago I had no idea I would be selling a food product,” he said. “Now I’m planning on how to sell my sauces throughout the state of California. It definitely is a change.”