Larry Sombke of Delmar is on a mission to get every family in the Northeast eating Southwestern cuisine a few times a week, or as much as they dine on Italian food like our beloved pizza.
Sombke cooked up recipes for ranchero, mole and chipotle sauce years ago while working in a natural foods restaurant. Two years ago, he launched his business, aptly named Larry’s Southwestern Sauces, and has already gained more followers then you can shake a maraca at.
How has he done it? With a few well-thought-out ingredients to his business plan: First, have a great product that fits a niche market; second, talk about your product at every available venue; third, always find new ways to connect with your customers.
Sombke’s Southwestern success story begins in his childhood. Growing up in Illinois, he and his family dined on chili as a staple during mealtime. “There’s a legacy of boyhood chili influences in me,” Sombke says. “We ate it all, from medium to spicy, and the whole time I was thinking about cooking and what I could do to improve it.”
In his 20s, as a chef in Missouri, Sombke perfected his recipes, which fall under the category of enchilada sauce. “It’s not salsa; salsa is a relish used for dipping,” Sombke says. “My sauces are for cooking. These are simmer sauces. It’s gluten-free, all-natural, ethnic, artisanal and a gourmet product. I got lucky hitting all the bases of what people are looking to buy for their families right now.”
After a broad and varied career including broadcast journalism, authoring cookbooks, public relations and teaching, Sombke knew it was time to pursue his own business. He got his toes wet with a couple other businesses that ultimately didn’t survive.
“I tried a sausage business that didn’t work out,” Sombke says. “There’s always been an entrepreneurial foodie side to me.”
Today, while he still works as a substitute teacher, the rest of his time is spent brainstorming, marketing, and keeping in touch with customers via newsletters, a website with recipes and even a cooking video on YouTube.
Enthusiastic, well-spoken and upbeat, Sombke makes it difficult not to get as excited about huevos rancheros as he shows people how easy it is to prepare them. “I want to show everyone how to make a fast, delicious meal using my sauces as marinades or toppings,” Sombke says. “They work with chicken, seafood, beef, you name it. The sauces can transform anything you have in your fridge into a fantastic dinner. I hear from my customers all the time about new ways they use (the sauces) to cook.”
As barbeque season gets into full swing,Sombke says all three varieties — mole, chipotle and ranchero — make excellent basting sauces for anything you grill, right down to veggies. “Most barbeque sauces are catsup-based, but if you want catsup you can pour it out of a bottle onto your burger,” Sombke says. “Mine are hearty, flavorful grilling sauces, like what people in Colorado, Texas and California are eating.”
Larry’s Southwestern Sauces are now made and bottled at a large-scale kitchen in Rotterdam, but Sombke pays close attention to production. “You have to trust other people as your business gets larger, but also do your own quality control,” Sombke says. “You always have to be hands-on.”
Sombke is a frequent face at area farmers markets, but you can also find his sauces in 80 stores — from Price Chopper to area co-ops and natural food stores — across the Northeast and in several other states. His sauces were featured on Good Morning America as a 2012 “Super Bowl Party Essential,” another video clip you can find on his website.
One of Sombke’s talents is the ability to cook and talk animatedly at the same time. He seems destined to have become a specialty-foods business owner and a cooking teacher/coach. “Within the next 12 months my sauces will be sold in Texas and California stores,” Sombke says. “I love them, customers love them; I have a great product here. And I’m just getting started.”
To learn more about Larry’s Southwestern Sauces, visit here. You can check out Larry’s Sauces channel on YouTube here.
Photos by Krishna Hill/Life@Home
s Southwestern Sauces.com