DES MOINES, Iowa — For a life spent in Iowa, you can’t believe how far it’s come.
“From day one I treated this as a serious business.”
Taufeek Shah had a mind for numbers, a personality for sales, and a mom who could really cook.
“We would make our hot sauce in the evenings,” he remembers, “we both still worked our full-time jobs, cooked in the evenings, go to the Farmer’s Market and I’d sell it.”
For the first two years, every bottle of Lola’s Fine Hot Sauce was sold in person by Shah. Then one day, the stores came calling. “Bring the sauce,” they said, “and your patience.”
“I would stay and I’d work with the retailer,” he says, “I’d demo. I’ve demoed almost every single Hy-Vee, every single Fareway myself. And it’s really a grind.”
Six years later, Lola’s — named after his Fillipino mom and flavored with a bit of his Pakistani dad — is a nationwide hit.
“We’re still made small-batch,” says Shah. “The way that we made it in my mom’s kitchen, is the same way that we make it today. Nothing has changed.”
Well — his mom’s kitchen didn’t have an automated bottling machine — but you get it.
“Any new item that comes out, my mom is the one who created it.”
Lola’s line (at least 15 products deep) is now available just about everywhere. From Walmart to Casey’s, to that food shopper’s paradise, Lowe’s.
Shah’s streak is as hot as his sauce, and I can attest– that’s a strong indictment.
“It was a fish-out-of-water feeling at first,” he admits, “but afterwards it just became second nature — like you were almost born for this.”
This weekend, he returns to where he started — the downtown Farmers Market, where he’ll be named the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Minority Business Champion of the Year.
“For us to win this award, it means a lot — not only for us as a company and for our stuff, I think it’s a great win for our state, and a great win for Mama Lola.”