There once was a tiny bottle that lived tucked away inside a family’s refrigerator. On its surface, the container wasn’t really anything special, but it did hold a secret — one that could be unlocked only with a little spoon. Then, one day, that bottle and the top-secret concoction inside became the foundation and inspiration for Arizona’s breakout hot sauce company.
“My stepfather would always make really hot sauces from ‘the islands,’ from Trinidad,” Jacob Cutino (pictured) says. “He would never tell anyone what was in it. It was just always that he’d let people have it, but they could only use a certain plastic spoon to get it out so they wouldn’t ruin it. And he only let you use a couple of drops, because he said it would ruin your food, which I’ve done before.”
The family long accepted that the recipe for this particular hot sauce was a secret and likely always would be. That is, until Cutino’s future wife came along.
“My girlfriend and I got engaged, and she came around to meet the family and tried it,” Cutino says. “ ‘You have to figure this out,’ she said. So, I made a bunch of stuff that was not so good — probably pretty bad. Then I finally landed on something that was pretty good. We took my sauce to work and sold out in one day.”
They were onto something. Within months, Cutino quit his day job in the restaurant industry. The couple maxed out their credit cards and drew from their 401(k)s, then launched their product to a wider audience for the first time at a Phoenix farmers market on March 4, 2015. The response was immediate, positive and widespread. And Cutino Sauce Co. (originally Homeboy’s Hot Sauce) quickly caught the attention of home cooks and local chefs alike.
“I ran into Chris Bianco at the farmers market that first day,” Cutino says, “and he was like, ‘Yeah, it’s really good, man. Let’s sell some at Pane Bianco!’ It was all super casual, but he became one of our first wholesale accounts. I saw him a while later, and he saw that we were making some tracks.” Bianco told Cutino to let him know if he needed anything, and Cutino asked him to share his hot sauce with some of his chef and restaurateur friends. “That was a good move for us to get out of the garage,” Cutino says.
Today, the company operates out of a warehouse and has 10 sauces in its regular rotation, and they’re available to wholesale and retail customers. On any given day, you’ll find classic flavors such as jalapeño, habanero and verde, but Cutino also likes to add unexpected flavors such as blueberry and mango.
“There’s something to be said about having sweet and heat together, and I think there’s room for that,” Cutino says. “At a time when everyone was kind of going the truffle or mushroom direction, I was on a run with fruit.”
It’s a concept that resonates with consumers. For Spencer Galloway, a Phoenix-based beverage sales professional, the draw to Cutino was immediate. “I haven’t looked back since my wife, Sophie, bought me a four-pack for Christmas shortly after I tried the sauces for the first time,” he says. “The array of flavors makes it pretty easy to use with breakfast, lunch, dinner or even dessert. I’ve had it as a base to a sauce in a recipe, or doused on top. It’s good no matter what. And it’s a local company. Win-win.”
Today, Cutino Sauce Co. products are available online, in Whole Foods and AJ’s supermarkets across Arizona, and in dozens of stores and restaurants between Tucson and Flagstaff. But how did Cutino’s stepdad react to the company’s success? He continues to send Cutino bottles of his own recipe. But now he’s playing with flavors a little more, too.
“He actually just sent me some of his that he made, and that’s a big thing,” Cutino says. “Everybody knows he’s going to make some, so we all wait for our jars. He sent me 12 little jars that he wanted me to check out. He’s been super excited about it. Super supportive.”
Cutino Sauce Co. Buffalo Wings
1 stick sweet cream butter
1 bottle Cutino Sauce Co. Jalapeño
2 ounces Cutino Sauce Co. Habanero
Juice from ½ lime
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 pounds (approximately 2 dozen)
chicken wings, fried or grilled
Melt butter, add all other ingredients except wings, and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Toss wings in sauce.
Cutino Sauce Co.