We're excited to share an artisan profile today on Kelly Schexnaildre, owner and founder of Merfs Condiments.
We've carried Merfs flagship product, Hand Grenade Sriracha, for years and it's such a popular best seller for us. We love it because it's packed with umami flavor (in addition to being perfectly spicy) and is completely free of preservatives. It's made with red bell peppers, garlic, vinegar, and doesn't contain any sugar...instead the ingredient list includes pineapple for a bit of sweetness! Last but not least, Kelly manages to keep her price points amazingly low (and we say amazingly low because her quality is super high).
Read on to learn more about Kelly's journey into the world of hot sauce and condiments. Her story is really inspirational - we love the bit about how she buckled down and did a ton of research into the hot sauce industry and saw a clear niche she wanted to tackle. She started from scratch and now has her own manufacturing facility, a huge presence in Denver (you've probably seen her stuff on tables at tons of local restaurants), and distribution to 6 different states. Enjoy!
How did you get started? What were your first steps and how did it evolve from there?
I was 26 and didn’t know what to do: I knew I didn’t want to work in restaurants forever, and I also knew that I didn’t want to attend graduate school. So, what were my options? I learned how to cook at age seven, and I’ve been cooking from scratch at home ever since. I’m passionate about delicious, healthy, and affordable food and quality, healthy, and affordable are not often found together at the grocery store. I was sick and tired of overpaying for condiments and sauces (so I always made my own at home).
I knew there had to be a better way forward. I did a ton of market research (there were only 3 hot sauce companies in Colorado when I started Merfs), and I determined that the market was ready for something besides Tabasco, Cholula, and Tapatio. Merfs is a food company founded on the premise that delicious food shouldn't break the bank. Our mission is to create quality food products using all natural and fresh ingredients while maintaining an affordable price in both retail and wholesale markets.
Kelly with a handful of photogenic habaneros, and a bottle of one of our personal favorites - Electric Lime. 💚
The journey has been interesting, fruitful, emotionally draining, uplifting, fun, depressing, exhilarating, and challenging. Starting a company is full of trials—it’s getting up every day not knowing what’s going to happen next. It’s constant trouble shooting in motion. It’s scoring the big deals and getting screwed over by other companies. It’s cutthroat and awesome at the same time. The first 3.5 years were the toughest. I was working 80-100 hours a week to get the business off the ground and working nights at a restaurant to pay the bills. It was worth every second and every sacrifice I ever made. Merfs now has eight different products, it’s very own manufacturing facility, several major distributors, and presence in 6 US states.
Tell us about the space where you make your product.
Merfs’ production space is 1500 square feet. We have an office up front and the rest is warehouse space. It’s got 15 foot ceilings, cement floors, pallet racking, and a garage door. We have a 150 gallon kettle, a refrigerator, freezer, and forklift. It’s rather uninteresting, but we do have a fun mural of Merf in the front office!
(Kelly hard at work living the authentic entrepreneur life. Boy are we familiar with this, too! 😂 )
Do you have a favorite food or lifestyle blog? What is it?
I am a huge fan of Mark Sission and his line of Primal Kitchen products. He wrote a book called the Primal Blueprint, and it’s an entire lifestyle based on ancient practices—eating only meats, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats, cutting down on screen time, getting plenty of sleep and sunshine, and optimizing your body with heavy lifting and sprints. I have read quite a few of his books, I listen to the Primal Blueprint podcast, and I continue to live a Primal lifestyle. I’ve lost 20 pounds and I’m in the best shape of my life. I’ve never felt better!
What's your favorite thing that's been said about your product?
I got this email from a customer named Dave up in Fort Collins in 2018:
"Hey Merfs! I had your Fool's Paradise sauce at the Atomic Cowboy and LOVED it. So I bought a bottle right then. And then went back for another, then another for my girlfriend's house, pretending it was for her but it was really so I could have Merfs with everything. It changes Campbell's soup from horrible salty broth to exciting salty broth. It gives that heat I need to my Chinese food. It goes well on baked potatoes. It is great on eggs. I put in my shrimp dipping sauce. It's great on hot dogs with ketchup and mustard. It mixes with salsas of all kinds, giving them the heat you need to live. I just had it in a can of Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli and it was amazing. It's fast replacing sriracha as my go-to heat. I don't understand how it blends so well with so many different flavors and varieties of food, but I'm glad it does. Fool's Paradise, baby! If I'm a fool then so be it, I'm ok with that. High f'n five to you, Kelly! I worship at your hot sauce altar. ;)"
Fool's Paradise, which happens to be mentioned in a customer fan letter above, and Kelly hanging out in one of their favorite places...Sloan's Lake.
Are there any other great local artisans you're into right now?
I’m really into RedCamper’s deliciousness. Maura is an incredible friend, and her commitment to sustainable sourcing and respect for the environment is very impressive. Also, deliciousness jam is absolutely amazing. Strawberry Limoncello is my very favorite!!
Maura G working hard in the Red Camper warehouse.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
My go to breakfasts are either:
- a smoothie with strawberries, banana, Ascent (a Boulder company) whey protein powder, full fat coconut milk, and almond butter
- two fried eggs over hard (runny yolks gross me out) with bacon and hash browns.
You live near Denver: do you have any favorite places to enjoy the beauty of your area?
I currently live in Lakewood, very close to Sloan’s Lake, and I am at the park all the time, summer or winter or fall or spring. I spend a lot of time walking and talking there and I just love it!
Image courtesy of Justin W. via Yelp
Do you have a favorite local restaurant?
- Park Burger (best, cheapest burger in the entire city)
- Chook (half a chicken, charred broccoli salad, and wedge potatoes)
- Uchi (everything)
- Cattivella (prime rib pizza)
- OneFold (congee, breakfast burrito)
New drink lineup at Uchi, photo courtesy of the amazing local photographer Rebecca Stumpf via instagram.
If you enjoyed this blog, check out some of the other artisan profiles we've done in the past:
- Zora Tabin of Wild Zora Foods (grass-fed meat and vegetable snack bars made in Loveland)
- Trish Kurnick of New Beat Foods (gluten-free quinoa crackers made in Longmont)
- Cordelia of Formulary 55 (luxurious spa products made in Pueblo)
- Brett of Light Provisions (the best smelling and best designed, candles in Colorado. In our humble opinion. Made in Co Springs)