Student cooks up hot future in sauce venture

Nick Beste’s drive in business has led to a deal to supply Cub Foods with a hot sauce brand.

by Bryce Haugen

As long as University first-year finance student Nick Beste can remember, he’s been coming up with “cockeyed ideas.”

Whether trying to develop a cell phone-controlled car starter or a Global Positioning System navigated robotic lawnmower, the East Grand Forks native explored countless ways to make money during high school.

“I don’t ever want to work for another person. I don’t ever want to work for a business,” Beste said. “I just want to start them and run them.”

And in his first few months at the University, he did just that. With luck and determination as the key ingredients, Beste said, he launched a hot sauce brokerage business in September.

The product, Village Hot Sauce – until recently a product exclusive to North Dakota and northern Minnesota – goes on sale in late November at 62 metro Cub Foods locations for $2.79.

Beste said he realized on a random weekend trip to Cub Foods this September that Twin Cities supermarkets don’t offer chunk-free hot sauce, a popular item in stores up north.

He eyed this untapped market and, a couple of days later, approached Cub with a business plan, he said.

“I said ‘I have a hot sauce I’d like to sell in your stores. How would I go about that?’ ” he said.

They liked the idea and agreed to a trial period. But there was one problem, he said: He didn’t have a hot sauce product to sell them.

Posing as a University student doing research on salsa trends in northwestern Minnesota, Beste called a grocery store and asked them which hot sauce sold best.

The store directed him to Tom Zimmer of Grand Forks Grocery, who’s been making Village Hot Sauce as a side job for 27 years. He agreed to work with Beste.

“We’ve always looked at Minneapolis as the next place to grow,” said Zimmer, 59, who makes 8,000, 15-ounce hot sauce units per week out of a combination of family recipes. “(Beste’s) got a good head on his shoulders so we’re more than willing to work with him on it.”

When the sauce goes on sale, Beste will serve as a middle man, in charge of promoting the product to the new market. A suburban distributor will handle product shipping.

For a few high school summers, Beste operated a commercial lawnmowing business. He also manages stocks for himself, family and a few friends.

But he credits a 2005 summer internship at a Grand Forks real estate company with providing him the real-world skills to succeed.

“It taught me you could make a deal from nothing,” he said.

As an aspiring real estate developer, Beste was always looking at properties to buy, fix up and resell, he said. At one point, his parents threatened to ground him if he didn’t cool out, but he eventually convinced them to invest in a home and renovate it.

“He’s done a lot of homework,” his father and business partner Kevin Beste said while fixing up the home. “In this (hot sauce) case, I told my wife I’m just going to let him run with it.”

St. Cloud State University first-year business student Branden Wald said he believes Nick Beste, a longtime high school friend, will succeed in his hot sauce endeavors.

“He just has the business savvy,” Wald said. “He sees angles that other people don’t see Ö He’s not all talk.”

Nick Beste’s roommate, undecided first-year Carlson School of Management student Mike Jorgenson, agreed.

“When Nick has a goal in mind, he’ll do anything to accomplish it,” he said.

Living with Nick Beste has its advantages, Jorgenson said, like consistent midnight snacks.

“If I sit down and I’m hungry, I could probably eat a whole bag of chips with his hot sauce,” he said.

Nick Beste said he hopes to expand to each of Cub Food’s 110 stores in four Midwestern states and eventually sell through other companies. His company also plans to introduce three new products, he said.

“If it sells, it’s not hard to get the grocery stores to sell your product,” he said. “If it doesn’t sell we can’t go anywhere.”

He said he’s committed to making the first scenario happen.

“I don’t really like to mess around, I guess Ö I’m mildly obsessive-compulsive. It’s all I ever think about.”