Paul Sarris, CEO & Founder
About the Company
Brothers Paul and Van Sarris inherited their love for cooking and eating great food from their father, James. Jimmy (as he was known by everyone) was born on the Gulf Coast near New Orleans. As children, the brothers were spoiled by the food their father made for them, it would sing with flavor. Their dad used to tell them, "Any fool can make something hot, the trick is to make it delicious". After his passing in 1999, Paul and Van set out to keep their father's passion for great flavor alive. From Jimmy's philosophy comes the motto "Flavor Before Fire". By carefully blending the finest ingredients and chilies the six varieties of Sweet Sunshine Chili Sauce were born. They know Jimmy would be proud. From the Sarris Family to yours comes Sweet Sunshine Chili Sauce, Enjoy!
Sweet Sunshine Chili Sauce will be available at various retail outlets or can be purchased here.
Have you tasted the best chili sauce in the world?
About the Founders
Paul Sarris, the founder of Sweet Sunshine, Gourmet Conveniences, was born in Brooklyn, New York. Like many families from the neighborhood, his close-knit clan eventually migrated from the city to the suburbs of Jericho, Long Island.
Sarris attended Nassau Community College and then transferred to C.W. Post where he majored in political science. After graduating in 1973, he decided to pursue a Master's Degree but soon realized that academia wasn't a good fit for his spirited ways. What he did know is that he wanted to be an entrepreneur, a businessman. His first job looked appealing on paper but ended in disaster after he sold his car and invested everything he had in a home smoke detector company. The year after he signed on, the company went under after the owner embezzled all the assets. Suddenly, he was without a job or car for that matter. After accepting a slew of uninspired jobs, he secured a stint with The Pillsbury Company where he served as liaison between J. Walter Thompson advertising agency and selected Burger King Franchises. After giving it a good solid chance, Sarris came to terms with the fact that he was unequipped to work within a bureaucratic corporate environment. He decided to leave Pillsbury and accepted a position with a growing company that manufactured medical supply packaging.
That decision, along with a serious commitment to the life skills he learned from motivational expert Tony Robbins, saw his life make a dramatic turn. With the packaging company flourishing, he decided to move to Connecticut, build a house, and raise his four children with his wife, Charlene.
The notion to create Gourmet Conveniences has been rattling inside Sarris' brain for over ten years. To him, this venture represents Freedom that comes from being able to create something from the ground up. The personal rewards from being able to identify, develop and bring something to the consumer market are enormous.
Before Sweet Sunshine Sauces were made available to the public it was sampled by thousands of concertgoers at various country music concerts he sponsored at venues throughout Connecticut. The incredible praise garnered at these tastings was so positive that now, in the spring of 2007, he is ready to kick the whole Gourmet Conveniences into high gear.
Paul, Charlene, James, Paul, Alexis and Ashley all live together in Litchfield, Ct. The kids (and Charlene too) are really proud of their Dad.
Gourmet Conveniences Mission Statement
The ultimate luxury is free time. We are all buried and struggling to get through our days. Gourmet Conveniences, Ltd. is dedicated to making products that will enhance food in such simple and delicious ways that their use will require no effort. Every product must pass a few simple tests. They must be healthy, simple to use, be delicious and make my dad Jimmy proud.
A Conversation with Paul Sarris...
You've been thinking about creating a line of chili sauces for quite some time. What made you put it into operation now?
Food has been a part of my family's history. For years my dad used to tell me stories about his own fathers' restaurant and always said that one of his greatest joys was to cook for us. My dad was especially great at making sauces. I've been working on a number of different food lines for over 15 years but decided that it made the most sense to start with a condiment. At the same time, I was offered an opportunity to sponsor some concerts where the public would be given a chance to sample the sauces. Once that happened, I was committed. . That was over a year and a half ago and hundreds of adjustments ago. Now everything is in place and it's time to take it to market.
Tell me how your dad inspired you?
Jimmy Sarris, The Inspiration
My dad was the sweetest, kindest nicest man that ever walked this earth. Everyone who knew my dad adored him. He was always joking around and bringing joy to the people around him. He was always the life of the party. As a young man, he won the Major Bowes amateur hour and got to sing with a guy from Hoboken by the name of Frank Sinatra.
My dad was my role model. He worked three jobs to get our family out of Brooklyn and into the suburbs of Long Island. He was a tool and die maker during the day, waited tables on the weekends, and had a small photography business that shot weddings for extra income. I never got to spend a lot of time with him, but the time he did spend with us was special. Something happened when I was in my mid 20's that bonded me to him even more. We were at a family picnic playing softball with my dad's 5 brothers and 2 sisters which made for a lot of cousins, aunts and uncles. My dad and I had decided to take a break and get something to eat. I was walking slightly ahead of him when I heard him call my name then fall to the ground, I rushed over to him and found he had no pulse.
I was trained in CPR, as I was a volunteer fireman, but I had never been called on to use it. I immediately did what I was trained to do, I came down on his chest, as hard as I could, with both hands clenched. I started giving him mouth to mouth resuscitation and chest compressions. There were about 20 family members standing around us screaming hysterically. Between breaths I kept yelling Call 911! This went on for about 5 minutes, which felt like an hour. Finally, my brother saw the commotion from a neighboring ball field and came over. He took over the mouth to mouth while I kept up the chest compressions. Dad finally came back to life and his only complaint to me was that I had broken his ribs. Dad subsequently had a valve replacement and lived almost another 30 years.
Family is the most important thing in the world to you. Is that why you included pictures of your children and wife in the promotional material?
My family is everything to me. I guess that comes from my own warm feelings of my childhood. The only difference is that I have managed to spend more time with my wife and children than my dad did. I guess this new venture is dedicated to them, hoping to create something that I can pass down to them; I have tried to instill the idea of excellence and effort into the core of their characters. Perhaps by growing this new business from nothing, it will illustrate those values better than just talking about them. They love the idea of the new venture and are absorbed in every new development.
Did they help fine tune the recipes?
Not really. I had the idea of the making the sauce, which I shared with my brother, Van. He came up with a recipe, which we both played with. Originally, there was a Sweet, Hot and Atomic sauce. I added a Warm version and he came up with the idea of Jamaican Jerk and Roasted Shallot & Garlic. I eliminated extracts, added Red Savina Habaneras, and more Chili in the formula. I then eliminated all preservatives and now everything is All Natural & Fat Free.
What's the difference between a chili sauce and a hot sauce? Is it more appropriate for certain foods and less appropriate for others?
The world doesn't need another hot sauce. Sweet Sunshine is a Chili Sauce because its primary flavor is Chili pepper. Just pour some out onto a plate and look at the consistency. It is loaded with real Chili mash. Our goal was to make a delicious condiment that ranged from Sweet (mild enough for a small child to use as a dipping sauce), to warm (a little bite, but not hot enough to be considered a hot sauce) thru Hot (with enough heat to be considered a hot sauce) all the way to our Atomic which is 25% Red Savina Habanera mash (we estimate about 100,000 scoville). Our motto is Flavor before Fire. Not everyone wants a sauce that is hot enough to hurt the average person, but everyone can enjoy a new delicious and very different condiment.
Was the process of creating the sauces more or less complicated than you originally thought? Were there any surprises along the way?
It was much more difficult than I expected, and I expected it to be a bear to develop. As I mentioned, this has been in development for over 15 years and nothing has come easily. I have learned a lot as I stumbled through making many mistakes and spending long hours getting to where we are right now. Winning the three Scovie Awards last month (especially first place for our Jamaican Jerk) has helped renew my belief in this whole project.
Where are the sauces actually processed? Is that also where they're bottled and stored?
The sauces are made in New Haven, CT. at a brand new state of the art packaging facility. And we store the sauce locally. I found our suppliers by going to different food shows and found our South American Chile supplier at the New York City show.
Who came up with the tag line Flavor before Fire? Why do you think it is so applicable?
My brother and I came up with the Sweet Sunshine name as well as the Flavor Before Fire tag... We both believe that Flavor Before Fire sums up what my dad would always say; Any fool can make something hot, the trick is to make it delicious!
Do you have any plans to expand the line if these six sauces are a hit?
I have several ideas on the front burner ready to go, and I am convinced that our product will be a hit. We've been getting nothing but positive feedback from everyone who has tried our sauces. I know it won't be easy, but if I refuse to quit, I know we will succeed.
People seem to think that hot sauces are a part of southern culture. But you live in Connecticut. Can a boy from Connecticut know as much about sauces as a boy from Louisiana?
Good taste isn't limited to where you were born. But I'm proud to say that my dad was born in Gulfport and many of my relatives live in New Orleans. I am of Greek heritage and have been a foodie my whole life and the love of great food runs deep in my heart.
I understand that your sauces have received their first round of industry awards. Can you tell me more about that?
Yes. It's really exciting. We were just honored with three Scovie Awards. These are the Oscars in the hot sauce and condiment world. We submitted three of our flavors (Jamaican Jerk, Hot and Atomic) and all three flavors were honored. Our Jerk sauce took home the first place prize in its category. Very cool for the new kid on the block.
Right now, the line is only available on the web and a few exclusive markets. Where would you like to see it sold eventually? Do you have a rollout plan in mind?
We have sales reps on our team now and have started to bring it to the attention of some well-known high-end outlets. It has taken us longer than we would have liked to get this going, but I have to keep earning a living and paying the bills for my family. I feel we are just at the point where things will start happening.
When the label says all natural, what does that mean?
We removed the miniscule amount (less than 1/10 of 1%) of preservatives we originally had in our recipe. I was convinced to add them originally to extend the shelf life, but as my food technologist told me, it is very stable without anything. We just advise our customers to refrigerate the bottles after opening.
I understand that you have some interesting marketing ideas in your head. Can you tell us anything about your Miss Sunshine competition?
I would love to hold a Miss Sweet Sunshine competition. We could use her as a spokesperson for the sauces and in our advertising. We will see if I can pull that off financially, but I have already gotten a lot of offers from men who would love to be judges!
Creating a new product and bringing it to market is fraught with pitfalls. What lessons have you learned from being a successful businessman in the medical supply field?
I am a very big believer in positive mental attitude and feel that whatever you do for a living, you'll succeed if you follow three simple rules.
1) Always have a good attitude and treat everyone with respect. Be thankful for all your blessings.
2) Always do more and give more that you have to, the world is full of people trying to find a shortcut or an easy way to get thru life.
3) Never quit trying and you MUST succeed.
As a businessman first, what type of advice would you give others who may be interested in starting their own product line, food or otherwise?
Be prepared to put in the effort, nothing comes easy.
Do you listen to your gut and rely on your own instincts or is there someone else whose opinion you take very seriously?
I really rely on my own gut and take responsibility for my decisions. I do bounce ideas off of other people but have learned to follow my own instincts. If you screw up, you have no one else to blame. When you succeed there is no better feeling in the world. In order to grow you must take risks and it can be very uncomfortable and lonely out there. However, as everyone knows, without risk there is no chance of gain. The risk makes you grow. If you don't keep growing, you start rotting. I, for one, am not ready to start rotting.