An interview with Larry, Larry’s All Natural owner
When, how and why was Larry Sauces started?
I established Larry’s Foods LLC and its line of all-natural Mexican cooking sauces in 2009, as the culmination of a life-long passion for food, cooking and gardening. I grew up enjoying the aromatic flavors found in the food of the many neighborhood chili parlors and a small-family owned Mexican restaurant in Springfield, IL. After college and trips to Mexico and the Southwest, I became a chef at a Midwest natural foods restaurant where I developed my recipes for ranchero, chipotle and mole sauces. I left the restaurant business to pursue a degree in journalism and moved to New York City to work at ABC Radio News. New York City proved to be wide-open territory to explore and write about the many ethnic foods available in its multi-cultural neighborhoods. I wrote food articles for the New York Times, USA Today, The Daily News, Esquire Magazine, New York Magazine and other publications. This led to authoring several cookbooks. Moving to upstate New York allowed me to pursue my other passion – gardening, which was the source of ingredients for my cooking. Later, I discovered Nelson Farms, a food processing incubator near Syracuse where I learned how to make my Mexican sauces a commercial reality without sacrificing the flavor that comes from cooking with fresh vegetables and herbs. Soon I was selling the sauces in farmer’s markets and began expanding into food coops, natural food and grocery stores. Two years ago, I expanded the business to food service and this fall I will attend my first major food service show at the Met Life Stadium in New Jersey.
What is the most interesting thing you have learned about making sauce?
Flavor is everything when making sauces. To create the all-natural homestyle flavor of Larry’s Sauces, it is crucial to use fresh vegetables, premium quality canned tomatoes and the freshest herbs and spices we can find. Dried vegetables and cheap quality tomatoes will just not get the job done. Good flavor also comes from using allergen-free and non-gmo ingredients. People can taste the difference and I am very happy we can meet their expectations.
What are the biggest challenges or hurdles you face?
Because Larry’s Sauces are manufactured by co-packers, maintaining consistency and quality control over the contents of the jar, the labels, the boxes, shipping, handling and everything else you can imagine is a major challenge. Another big challenge is growing from a small mom and pop operation producing a few hundred cases per year to becoming a regional product producing thousands of cases per year. It is daunting but satisfying at the same time.
How do you balance sustainability with profitability?
Larry’s All Natural is in a market category that requires better quality products which requires more costly ingredients. There are other taco and enchilada sauces on the market that cost far less than Larry’s do, but if I use cheaper ingredients, I can’t deliver the products my customers have come to enjoy and expect. But if I can’t produce a better-quality product, what’s the point?
Excluding your own, what’s another natural food product or brand that you always have at home?
I like to buy Tierra Farms coffee, Heidelberg and Bread Alone bread, Meadowbrook milk, Peanut Principle peanut butter, Our Daily Eats nuts, Gatherer’s granola, R&G cheese, yogurt from Argyle Farm, and fresh fruits and vegetables from farm stands. My new obsession is Mi Tierra Organic Corn Tortillas from Springfield, MA which are just simply the best corn tortillas around!