Meet Johnny Sompholphardy of Vatsana's Hot Sauce
Things are starting to heat up 🔥 We're excited to feature the founder of Phaya Naga Foods and it's best selling Vatsana's Seafood Hot Sauce, Johnny Sompholphardy. You can find Vatsana's Seafood Hot Sauce in our Hot S.O.S Box: The Saklolo Set 1.0!
"My name is Johnny Sompholphardy. I’m a first-generation American, meaning that I was born here after my parents immigrated from Laos to escape conflict and pursue better opportunities. With a chemical engineering degree from the University of Texas at Austin, I worked in the manufacturing industry in Houston, Texas for five years before making the life-changing move to a small town in Oklahoma. I engineered for a couple more years while developing sauce on the side. After selling out of Vatsana's Seafood Hot Sauce at our first festival, I made the leap from the safety of an engineering career to dive in headfirst into building a business around food manufacturing and consumer packaged goods. Phaya Naga Foods has been around for a year and a half now with a growing line of products and growing into new markets."
Cook with Vatasana's Seafood Hot Sauce: Baked Flounder with Panko and Parmesan
What inspired you to become a food biz owner?
The unique sauces and seasonings from Laos always bring me joy, and when I witnessed how much joy it brought to people who never had Laotian cuisine before, I knew that I had to find a way to keep sharing that joy.
Why did you want to highlight the food you are creating?
There wasn't a widely-available hot sauce that I could rely on for my seafood dishes. I realized that the sauce that could take that mantle has been a staple in my household for centuries. Therefore I decided to learn the recipe from my mother and, leveraging my experiences as a chemical engineer, scale it commercially.
What is your favorite dish? Is there a story behind it?
My most cherished memory as a child is eating boiled crawfish with my mom and little sister on the kitchen floor of our small apartment. Looking back, it didn't matter where we were or what our circumstances looked like because as long as we could break bread together, everything was alright. To this day, I can easily devour 3 to 5 pounds of crawfish, especially with Vatsana's seafood hot sauce by my side.
What does courage mean to you?
To me, courage means to take action for the right reasons, for your passions and your beliefs, despite doubt and knowing that a staggering number of businesses and brands don't make it. The first time I ever sold the hot sauce was at a hot sauce festival in Houston. Although my family approved of the sauce and my friends loved it, I had doubts about the general population. When the festival opened its gate on Saturday morning, my first customer was a hot sauce fanatic who saw our marketing on Facebook and made us his first stop. I gave him a sample and intently observed him as he tasted the sauce. His face quickly shifted from curious to disappointed, and he said, "Meh, I've had cocktail sauce spicier and tastier than this." My heart sank as I smiled and thanked him for his feedback. I thought, "Oh no, this is going to be a long day." Fortunately, the response grew to be overwhelmingly positive and by the end of the festival, we sold out. I think that a huge component of courage is trusting yourself, your product, and marching forward doing the best that you can.
Where can we expect to see you in the next few years?
I'm currently working to get Vatsana's seafood hot sauce onto shelves of local retailers. Distribution and logistics are a whole other animal that requires patience and persistence. I'm striving to have our flagship products available on the shelves of regional retailers, especially those along the Gulf coast, in a few years. No matter what, expect to see us still pushing on the flywheel and building momentum.
Thank you so much Johnny for sharing his story with us! Tuk Tuk Box is proud to exclusively feature Southeast Asian ingredients and include refugee, migrant, and generational stories in every box.
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