Husband and Wife Team Bring Customers A Taste of the Caribbean
Steve and Heidi Nolan, owners of Lincoln, Nebraska based Spice Isle Sauces, are big fans of the Caribbean – the people, the islands and most importantly, the flavors! They’ve always loved to travel and refer to the Caribbean as “our playground.” They especially liked spending time in the Turks and Caicos and wanted to bring some of the tropical Caribbean flavors to the United States. In 2013, they decided to open a restaurant on the island of Providenciales. Through that venture, they developed, bottled, and began selling a Caribbean BBQ sauce. They heard repeatedly from tourists who visited the restaurant that they loved the sauce and wanted to buy more, but it was too expensive to ship the bottles to the US.
Thus, in 2015, Steve and Heidi started approaching co-packers to manufacture the products in the United States. “The one thing I didn’t want to hear was the word ‘substitute” Steve says. “We eventually found a co-packer who was very excited about the ingredients and manufacturing the product for us. As a result, we began to have the sauce manufactured and bottled in the US and expanded our product line from the one sauce to 3 sauces and 3 matching seasonings/rubs.”
Authenticity is extremely important to the Nolans. So much so that several of the ingredients in their products are imported to insure the authenticity of the flavors. “I can confidently say there isn’t another product out there like ours,” Steve says. “99% of [the other] products out there are more salt, pepper and garlic based, whereas ours are about the island spices and fruits. In addition, our products are a healthier alternative to similar products on the market– they are gluten and MSG-free, we don’t use high fructose corn syrup, and there are no added preservatives, or artificial flavors or colors. We didn’t start out trying to produce a healthy product, but it turned out that way.” It’s taken 2-3 years to perfect the recipes for their three sauces and companion spice rubs.
Steve explains, “We have an online store and ship right out of Lincoln. We are also in a few stores locally.” In addition to these sales, they also do shows where customers can sample their products. Eighty-five to ninety percent of customers who taste it, buy it,” Heidi says. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, their sales virtually stopped. “The pandemic really shut the travelling and the shows down. We couldn’t do any tastings in the grocery stores, and many shows shut down. That avenue for sales and advertising just got totally shut down,” Steve says. “We had our online store, but we needed assistance in advertising and getting higher rankings on the internet.”
The Nolans utilized the U.S. Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program to cover Heidi’s salary. “The PPP income took the pressure off and helped provide an income for Heidi because we didn’t have the funds coming in to pay her,” Steve says. “It was a tremendous help. When you have a big chunk of income that’s all of a sudden gone, you use that [PPP} income for your employees. The easiest way to put it is that we were still able to function as company with her being paid. It kept our doors open. It covered Heidi’s salary so we could do other things with what little sales we were making.”
The business has since recovered from the pandemic and sales are starting to pick up again. In the future, Steve and Heidi would like to have their products in a national grocery chain. “Because of the ingredients we use and the versatility of the products (they are for so much more than just grilling and smoking), we call it gourmet sauce and seasonings. It’s a higher end, boutique product. Our vision is to be nationally known. We love the US, we want to stay in the US – we just really want to get the word out,” Steve says. “Our goal is to have 50 online sales a week at this point, but I’d love to be at a point where we are having 1000 or 2000 sales a week, but right now it’s just Heidi and me. We’d like to get to a point where we’re a much larger company. We have other flavors we’d like to add to our line, but we need financing to do that.”
Despite the setbacks from the pandemic, the Nolans enjoy the entrepreneurial lifestyle. “What I like is that I have total control, and it’s just the two of us. It’s the freedom to do it our way and to experiment and try new things and not be constrained or confined by having to answer to someone else,” Heidi says. For Steve, it’s all about the closeness. “It gives us the chance to work together as a couple. I just treasure that more than words can say,” he says.
They each have words of advice for people looking to start their own businesses. “Don’t let fear get in your way,” Heidi says. “We knew nothing about this industry, nothing about any of this before we started. You just have to be willing to stretch and learn things. You have to be okay with failing and getting right back up and trying again. You have to be flexible and adaptable and just go with it.” Steve advises entrepreneurs to be passionate about the businesses they want to start. “My advice would be if you’re going to start a small business, make sure that whatever you’re going to do, you do it from the heart, because you believe in it, and because you do it for the satisfaction of serving other people,” he says. “If you think you will get rich quick, don’t start it because you will be sorely disappointed.” Their lives truly embody this passion. “We’re both at retirement age and this is what we’re doing. I supposedly retired, but now I’m working harder than I ever have in my life” Steve says. “We’re working hard, but we love what we do. It’s just been marvelous!”