Papa Turts home grown and handcrafted hot sauce was born from a love of spicy foods and an overabundant yield of habanero peppers one summer. Matt and Mandy, of Fowlerville, Michigan, are the creators of a line of seriously kickass hot sauce that promises to add both flavor and a punch of heat to any kitchen. Papa Turts is gaining recognition and winning awards, including three (yes three!) 2016 Scovie awards. Their spiciest flavor of sauce, So Hot It Hurts, recently won Best In Show at the Chicago Hot Sauce Fest. Each Papa Turts sauce has won at least two awards. These award winning sauces are still made in small batches, all natural, gluten free, vegan, and with very low sodium.
Papa Turts is a grass roots endeavor with a down to earth, Michigan-proud backstory. When a summer garden crop of peppers left Matt and Mandy buried in habaneros, Matt started experimenting with recipes for hot sauce. After several batches, he had something he loved, and so did Mandy, their neighbors, friends and family. Again and again, they heard, “You guys should sell this stuff!” Pieces fell into place, as they tend to do in a successful, passion driven project. Matt and Mandy crossed paths with people who pointed them in the right direction in terms of starting a small business and bringing the hot sauce to market. With more trial and error, this dynamic duo finally perfected their product, packaging and marketing plan.
They needed a name. Papa Turt’s name comes from an evolution of Matt’s high school nickname, Turtle (Mandy describes her husband as a dreamer, often lost in his thoughts). Over time, Turtle became Turts, or Turtsie McGurtsie, or Tortulious J. Funk. Matt met Mandy years ago at Bell’s Brewery in a Michigan town that also has a fun name: Kalamazoo. After their daughter was born, Matt’s closest friends started calling him Papa Turts instead of Turtle. As the couple worked toward bringing their newly developed hot sauce to the public, they posted on Facebook, “Hey, friends, we’re going to sell this hot sauce you all love, but what should we call it?” Matt’s friend, Jody, suggested “Papa Turts – So Hot It Hurts!” It was a perfect fit: weird enough to be remembered, but not so weird that it’ll be quickly forgotten.
Not content to sit back and rest easy with the three primary sauces, Mama’s Sweet Chile, Papa’s Smoked Peppa, and So Hot It Hurts, Matt and Mandy have plans. The mark of a true artist is the will to create; it’s not only about the end result, but about the process. Next spring will see the introduction of a Papa Turts green sauce, a concoction made with roasted jalapenos, parsnips and tomatillos, fresh garlic and onion, green apples, and cilantro, great on tacos and with guacamole. Also in the works is the Scorpion Reaper hot sauce, aimed at those with an incredibly high heat tolerance, to be released sometime next year. A nice perk of liking Papa Turts on Facebook and checking out the website is gaining access to exclusive recipes incorporating the sauces.
One unique thing Papa Turts does is offer custom designed hot sauce labels. Wedding favors, birthdays, retirement parties, retreats, a marketing tool for businesses — customers can have a one-of-a-kind label and special sauce name added to each bottle they order. It’s a fun way to commemorate any event, and a great way to advertise a business.
As Papa Turts has steadily grown in popularity, so has the couple’s commitment to staying true to their love of Michigan. Papa Turts utilizes business practices they can be proud of, including recycling, composting, and calling on other Michigan based businesses, both to help grow the Papa Turts name and to spread the word about the state’s great consumer resources.
Mandy calls Papa Turts a labor of love. Producing, packaging, marketing and selling is a long process. Weekends and evenings are often spent in booths across the state, at fairs and events, gaining visibility for the product. Matt and Mandy’s two kids even pitch in, mirroring the couple’s overwhelmingly positive attitude when they appear now and then behind the counter with mom or dad. There’s no denying the work involved in bringing a dream to fruition. But it seems every time the couple feels discouraged or wonders if all the work is worth it, another win happens, like the Scovie awards, or another Michigan store or restaurant adds Papa Turts to their shelves. Just yesterday, the product was added to four Whole Foods stores in Michigan. Feedback from customers doesn’t hurt either. One of the most rewarding moments of manning a booth at an event is when a Papa Turts fan stops to mention how much they love the sauce, or to tell Matt and Mandy how awesome it is that they’re following their dream.
In its fourth year, Papa Turts has already beaten the odds, surviving longer than most new small businesses. The burgeoning success story of Papa Turts isn’t just the sauce. It’s not just the talent in the chef’s apron, or the marketing sense and attractive label and all those hours spent sharing the product with the public. Papa Turts flavor sells itself. It’s the attitude of the couple behind the sauce that makes it worth buying.
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