We’ve been chatting with successful small business owners across the country about how their first sale helped set the course for where they are today. Someone buying your product is a vote of confidence that you’re on the right track.

Below is our chat with Bobbie Rosenberg of Bobbie’s Boat Sauce. Bobbie’s delicious, spicy-umami, goes-with-everything sauce (think a ketchup/sriracha blend with a bit of sweetness, a hint of heat, and a unique savor) was thrown together during a boating excursion. After years owning her own cafe, then working in the world of advertising, Bobbie knew she had found something special from the first bite. The next steps were following her passion and turning a delicious sauce into a real business.*

I created boat sauce by accident. My friend and I were on a two-week sailing trip in the Pacific Northwest. We caught a rockfish off the side of the boat and decided to grill it. I come from a food background and one of my favorite things is to cook with what I have. I love the kind of Food Network, Iron Chef challenge of making something delicious with limited ingredients.  We had packed just enough provisions for the length of the trip — a week and a half into the trip and things in the refrigerator desperately needed to get consolidated — so I started taking out all the things that needed to go. A half jar of Salsa. A big bottle of pickle brine. Half of an onion. Some tomato paste. I began creating this sauce to go with our rockfish.

The meal that night was some jasmine rice, half of a cucumber, the grilled fish, and my sauce. We were eating and I was like… this is really good. As someone who used to cook professionally, I had never had a flavor profile like the sauce before. I was kind of freaking out. Paul, my friend, was encouraging but didn’t quite get my enthusiasm. He was like… yeah, it’s good! But I was like… you don’t get it, this is really good. I wrote the recipe down. I knew I had to do something with it. 

When I got home I started perfecting boat sauce. I was obsessed. I just knew the sauce could be a business. It could be a brand… after a good deal of recipe testing, I was encouraged to do a local Maker’s Faire — a market for food producers trying to get seen by buyers. It was the first time anybody I didn’t know was going to try the sauce. I loved what I was doing — friends were really encouraging — but knowing my project was going to be put to the test by strangers… I was excited but I was also nervous.

[At the Faire] Watching people’s expressions was my favorite part. I would see them take a bite. There was surprise. Raised eyebrows. Curiosity. Delight… you can get great and positive feedback from friends and family, but when a stranger tries your product and you can tell from their face it’s good? That’s everything to me. I always knew the sauce was good, I always believed it could be something, but that’s when I knew I really had it. During that event, there was a buyer from a specialty market in Portland. She tried it and told me she wanted it in her store. I wasn’t even trying to make a sale that day, I was just trying to get feedback on the product, but here we were. It encouraged me to keep going to the next chapter. 

If you want to try Bobbie’s Boat Sauce, you can pick up your own bottle at their website or at a store in your area. We’d recommend it with some crab cakes. Have a great story to share about your first sale? Know a local business that we need to profile? You can get in touch with North One on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

*This conversation has been edited for length/flow