Maker Story: Kevin Cummings and Ryan Berry, Murder Hornet Hot Sauce
Murder Hornet Hot Sauce founders Kevin and Ryan grew up together in Gig Harbor. Longtime friends, they have explored quite a few entrepreneurial pursuits together, including dabbling in the music industry. “We were small-time hip hop artists for a while,” Kevin told us, chuckling during his interview. “We enjoy being creative together.”
Pre-pandemic, Kevin had been playing with making hot sauces at his house. Then, when he started spending more time at home than ever before, what was originally a passion project suddenly became a professional opportunity. “In the pandemic, there was just time to dig into it,” Kevin said.
The Beginnings of An Artisan Hot Sauce Business
While on a socially-distanced camping trip with his friends, Kevin and his buddies sat around the campfire. At that time, murder hornets were a hot topic. The large wasps were sharing screen time with pandemic updates. We were all worried about a lot of things.
Back around the campfire, though, a friend of Kevin’s quipped that “Murder Hornets” would make for a great name for a band—or a hot sauce. Kevin’s wheels started turning, and by the time he returned home, he had sketched a logo on the back of a napkin.
From a branding perspective, he knew it would jump off the shelf. “The challenge,” Kevin told us, “would be to make a sauce that lives up to the name.”
That was a challenge Kevin was willing to accept—with Ryan’s help.
Starting Their Small Batch Hot Sauce Shop
When Kevin called him, Ryan was working as a bartender. Given his occupation, Ryan knew how to balance flavors that aren’t usually combined. With Murder Hornet, the duo would be charged with a slightly new kind of flavor balance: one between heat, sweet, salt, and acid. Would Ryan join?
He took a day or so to think about Kevin’s offer.
Ryan called Kevin back. He was all in.
“I couldn’t have designed a better childhood friend in a lab,” Kevin said.
Together, they got creative and wild with their ideas. Their Honey Bourbon Hot Sauce mixes roasted habaneros, red Fresno chili peppers, black garlic, pure honey, and brown sugar to add a sweet and savory sting to foods like eggs, hamburgers, and macaroni and cheese. “There’s a function to hot sauce,” Kevin explained. “In its purest form, it’s intended to sharpen the existing flavors of the food you’re eating and to provide an interesting contrast to those flavors.”
But what if you’re not a pepperhead?
A Marriage of Flavor and Heat
Kevin and Ryan landed on a couple of recipes (in addition to Honey Bourbon, they also have Blood Orange Agave and their new Black Label, a ghost pepper hot sauce balanced with citrus) and gave them away as gifts to friends and family. Even Kevin’s grandma, a woman who has never been “into” hot sauce, started buying a bottle every three weeks. She refuses any offer of a free bottle, which makes Kevin smile. “We’re a gateway hot sauce,” he said, “but something hot sauce fanatics also like.”
Connecting with Made In Washington
After expanding to selling at farmers' markets and popups around Washington, Kevin reached out to Made In Washington to see if we would be interested in working together. After a few phone calls and working through the details of pricing, Murder Hornet Hot Sauce was added to our roster of makers.
The first Made In Washington store in Pike Place Market opened the year Kevin was born, so when he got the good news that Made In Washington would sell Murder Hornet, Kevin said he “really felt at that moment that we became a real company. We’ve grown up going to this place. To this day, announcing that partnership on our Instagram is our most-liked post by far.”
One of Kevin’s favorite parts of working with Made In Washington is how we’re able to give him and Ryan “a platform to tell our story.” Lifting up makers through story to promote products, he told us, “has been wonderful.”
“We’re really appreciative of Made In Washington for taking a chance on us,” he said.
As far as we’re concerned, there was no chance to take.
Murder Hornet Hot Sauce’s Favorite Thing About Washington
“What I like about Washington is that we get the distinct flavor of all four seasons,” Kevin told us. Kevin is a person committed to adding more flavor to every day, so we appreciated his word choice in his response. “We get to reinvent ourselves every season,” he continued. He’s traveled all over the world, but “Washington is about as good as it gets.”
We couldn’t agree more.
The Perfect Gift for Foodies
Murder Hornet Hot Sauce’s little sauce bottles are ideal for sliding into a stocking, adding to a birthday bag, or displaying on your fridge’s sauce shelf. Whether they’re a surprise for a loved one or a treat just for you, you’ll know that Kevin and Ryan’s passion, along with their commitment to mixing unexpected, high-quality flavors, will put your tastebuds to the test.
Are you ready to bring the sting?
Murder Hornet Hot Sauce, a small-batch sauce company founded by two longtime friends, is designed, crafted, and made in West Seattle, WA.