Tim Heitzman started making hot sauces as gifts for family but now the brand is setting hearts — and tongues — ablaze.
“For the holidays, I would always make teriyaki sauce and spice rubs as gifts,” Heitzman said.
“Things I knew my dad and brother would use, but also that I could afford to make and would last them for a while. So for his birthday, I made a copycat of a Valentina’s and a version of a mango habanero that I really liked. I had about five or six bottles left over, so I went to The Pump Bar and then to Roughtail [Brewing Co.], gave away a couple of bottles and before long, people would ask when I was making more. So I would do this once every couple of weeks. By the time summer rolled around, I was consistently getting people asking to make more. By then I’d come up with a name, but I didn’t take it that seriously.”
Heitzman reached out to a friend, Oklahoma City artist Anthony Pego, to help complete the branding. The logo, featuring Tim’s rescued pit bull Maya, brought Rescue Dog Hot Sauce to life. Last August, Rescue Dog Hot Sauce made its first appearance at the Delmar Gardens in the Farmers Market District. People soon started paying attention.
“I made a hundred bucks my first day. I was super excited because it was my thing, my idea, my design. It was mine, whereas when I worked for other people, I was making someone else’s stuff. It’s really exciting for me that people are willing to spend money on something I’ve created,” he said.
Signature flavors like roasted red pepper with espresso and pineapple manzano were big hits, allowing Heitzman to expand his vision. A partnership with Roughtail Brewing Co. inspired Everything Rhymes With Hot Sauce, a collaboration infused with the brewery’s signature Everything Rhymes With Orange IPA, followed by Mango Unchained, made with their Sancho Mexican-style gose.
“I use a lot of manzano peppers and habaneros because those two pair really well,” Heitzman said. “Manzanos are not really common, but they’re like a habanero, but with a little less heat, so they help strengthen the sauces, plus they pair really well with fruit, so anything I do with fruit is going to have those peppers.”
As Rescue Dog Hot Sauce continues to grow, Tim pays it forward to local animal advocacy groups by offering customers a discount in exchange for a donation of pet supplies. He plans to expand the brand’s offerings to more sauces and other products to give customers more options. The Pump Bar recently debuted a Peach Bourbon BBQ sauce for its Wing Wednesday, and a partnership with Equity Brewing produced a new sauce for their first anniversary.
Not one to let the flavor shine alone, Heitzman creates quirky names to go with his spicy sauces.
“I’m a big fan of Wu-Tang [Clan]. So the dill pickle one is The ODB — Old Dilly Bastard — and the mango is Mango Unchained. Then of course, there are the really funny ones like This Sauce Sucks, which is a collaboration with Mercury Lounge in Tulsa.”
Heitzman’s love for food started young, soaking up the recipes his family crafted in the kitchen.
“I figured if my parents were at work and I wanted something, I wanted to be able to make it myself — say chicken fried steak — then I could because I’ve watched her do it. So I would just hang out in the kitchen and watch. I love chocolate cream pie, so I’d watch my grandma and learn,” he said.
Heitzman studied public relations, but the kitchen always called his name. He moved from Oklahoma City to Tulsa to start a food truck, but when the venture didn’t work out, Heitzman pivoted to a position at Lone Wolf Banh Mi. Eager to get into the kitchen and learn new techniques from more experienced chefs, he learned more about making recipes from scratch and discovered his true passion.
“This style of stuff is more my ballpark. I would have so much fun working the truck in front of our favorite bar in downtown Tulsa. For someone like me, that was kind of the life — working on my favorite food trucks in front of my favorite bar. My dog, Tiago, would be outside the truck half the time and people loved to see him. I wasn’t swimming in money, but I was about the happiest I’d ever been. That place made me realize that I have more fun if I’m around a product I enjoy, around people that enjoy it. So hanging out at a taproom, hanging out at a bar, hanging out with my dog and having a beer while I’m trying to sell my own product, it’s almost the kind of life I wish I would have been able to lead prior. I’m gonna sink or swim depending on how well I do. That’s why I’ve got to work hard. I have that PR degree and I haven’t done a lot with it, but I finally am because I have to market myself,” Heitzman said.
The dive into entrepreneurship hasn’t come rife with riches, but creating a product that people enjoy brings Heitzman all he needs.
“It’s almost like I’m kind of living paycheck to paycheck still, but I’m happy doing it,” Heitzman said. “Whereas, you know, if I was in an office or waiting tables or whatever, if I wasn’t happy doing what I was doing, I would do what I’ve always done, leave and go do something else. I’ve been self-employed for like nine-plus months now. That’s nine more months than I ever thought I’d be self-employed and I’m happy.”