It's not every middle-schooler who has the gumption to actually start a small business, but when Emily Rudnick, who's in eighth grade at Aspen Academy, was assigned the task for school project, she took the idea beyond what her teachers expected. The result is Rudspice, the fourteen-year-old's own blend of chiles and spices that she created with the help of her father, David. The spicy blend will be at select Savory Spice locations starting in mid-March.
How does someone so young find the means to launch a food product? Her first step was talk to Savory Spice owners Mike and Janet Johnston to learn about the spice business. For some time, Rudnick had been using Savory Spice products to make her own blends at home, and when she reached out to the couple, they were happy to help. This also aided Rudnick in starting her first Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a more permanent business, as well as to give people the opportunity to order Rudspice and another blend she has created called Rudrub.
Once the product launches in the Savory Spice shops, Rudnick will host a few demonstrations on how to use it (on Saturday, March 18, at the Platte Street location from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and on Sunday, March 19, at the Littleton location from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.), which will also give you the opportunity to try it. In the meantime, we chatted with the young entrepreneur to find out more about how and why she created this addictive spice blend.
Mike and Janet Johnston of Savory Spice with Emily Rudnick.
What inspired you to make the spice?
My dad and I made a batch of ribs on the barbecue, and we blended a bunch of spices to rub on them. We had some leftovers, which I ended up putting on other things I was cooking, and the food was better. I decided we should focus on making a spice to make all food better.
Is cooking a big part of family life?
I've been cooking as far back as I can remember. We are a real hands-on house, and sometimes we cook together and sometimes we fend for ourselves, so I learned to cook at an early age. My uncle tells a funny story about how he was in town on business and was working in the sunroom adjacent to our kitchen one morning. He said I came down in my robe, put a pan on the burner and started cooking breakfast. He laughed that a five-year-old was so self-sufficient.
What made you decide to go ahead and market your spice?
We have been making this blend for a few years and giving it to friends and family for holiday gifts. They came back and asked for more. Then they started sending us funny photos of them using Rudspice. It’s got a cult following. At my school, we have a block for leadership where we build a business plan. I thought Rudspice was a no-brainer for this project, and it kind of went from there.
Mike Johnston of Savory Spice shows Emily and Dave Rudnick around the factory.
What's in it?
The inspiration came from amazing sauces where you taste something right away, then it builds while you eat it, and finally it stays with you in a great way after you have eaten your food. I designed Rudspice after that concept. So when you taste Rudspice, you get lime and chile at the beginning; next paprika, mustard, garlic and sumac come across the middle; and finally, there are five chiles that ride across your tongue from the beginning through the end. There are some potent spices in my mix, like the ghost chile, but it's balanced, so those strong flavors still play a supporting a role. The goal is to enhance the food you are eating so you still have the flavor of the food. Use it lightly and get a little lift; add more, and it plays a larger role.
Did you experiment with different blends before you decided on this one?
Yes. We have made at least six versions of Rudspice, and I think we have landed in a great spot.
What did you do to taste-test them?
Popcorn is a great way to isolate the taste of Rudspice while not having the food influence the balance of the spice. As a school project last year, I made popcorn and used different amounts of Rudspice to create a mild, medium and hot example of how the food can taste. Once it passes the popcorn test, we then try it on eggs, guacamole, spaghetti and roasted vegetables to make sure it works with a wide variety of foods.
Was it hard to develop the recipe?
Yes, it took a long time to make all the flavors play together. After blending the spice, I did research on the tongue, and it turns out there is not a spicy taste for your tongue. Experts say that there are five commonly agreed-upon taste sections of the tongue. They are sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami, or savory. I think Rudspice plays across all aspects of the five senses to make it work so well.
Did you have any spice-mix fails?
We bombed the house early on when blending spices using the Kitchen Aid mixer. The toxic spice cloud was so bad the dogs left the house. Other than that, we experimented with a few test blends with the extreme chiles that were so spicy we couldn't eat them.
What's the best reaction you have gotten from your spice mix?
Early on, a family friend said it's so good he wanted to rub it on his body. That is why there is a tagline on the bottle that says, “It's not a good idea to rub on your body.” Another great comment I heard last night was, “My mom puts it on every meal she cooks.”
Savory Spice owner Mike Johnston showing Emily Rudnick some tricks to cooking with her spice mix, Rudspice.
What do the kids at school think about this launch?
All my friends at school are very surprised about how much money my Kickstarter has made and how it reached its goal in seven days. All my friends were inspired to start a Kickstarter after mine did so well. All the kids at school are selling their product online or at school. Rudspice will be going into Savory Spice, and they are so surprised that I got my product into stores.
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Would you make another spice blend?
As part of my Kickstarter, we are offering Rudrub, a new blend that is based off of Rudspice but adds classic BBQ rub ingredients like coffee, sumac, adobo, white pepper, onion, marjoram, cumin, kosher salt, and granulated maple sugar. It also caramelizes while cooking. Rudspice is currently at a medium spice level. I would like to also add a spicy version of Rudspice so that the spice fanatics can enjoy adding heat to their food. I would also like to create a spice that is not spicy at all but still brings flavor to the food. I want all my spices to have a bold flavor but a slow kick.
Do you want to go into the cooking industry?
I would love to go into the cooking industry eventually and even open my own restaurant where I can cook.
What advice would you give to other young entrepreneurs?
Find something that you're passionate about. Once you find that, you have to find a need related to what you're passionate about and try to fill that. Also, you’re not going to always get it on the first try; that means you’re going to have to work hard to get where you want to be.