Tim Fraczak: “Why can’t I have both??”

One of the things I’m most proud of is what was mentioned earlier about the school. My recipes use peppers grown by local high school students here in Queens, at John Bowne High School. Students who choose to do the program learn things like the science involved with farming, farming techniques, and even animal care! […]

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One of the things I’m most proud of is what was mentioned earlier about the school. My recipes use peppers grown by local high school students here in Queens, at John Bowne High School. Students who choose to do the program learn things like the science involved with farming, farming techniques, and even animal care! Yes, animal care, they have animals there! Another way I try to make a beneficial social impact is that I only use fair trade certified sweeteners in my sauces because I believe all farmers and their workers deserve a fair living wage across the world. And lastly, I look for opportunities to give to charities relating to poverty alleviation, environmental preservation, and scientific research for a better tomorrow.

Aspart of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Fraczak.

Timothy Fraczak has a B.E. and M.S. in Chemical Engineering, and ever since he was a kid, his mom taught him everything she knew about flavoring dishes and sauces. Timothy started Pepplish Provisions because he wanted to integrate his passion for hot sauce, his faith, and his knowledge of food chemistry to create products that help build better communities and minimize our impact on the environment.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

No, thank you for having me! I appreciate the opportunity to share some of my experiences. Sure, my passion for spicy food started when I was young. I’d eat peppers from the garden, slather my food with hot sauce, and order the hottest dish on the menu: I just couldn’t get enough spicy food growing up. It wasn’t until I moved to NYC that I realized most hot sauces on the market were either ready to melt my face off but no flavor, or it was bursting with great flavor but not spicy at all. I began to ask the age-old question, “Why can’t I have both??” So, it’s 2009 and I make my first recipe which later becomes the Peach Agave Garlic hot sauce. Everyone loved it. Friends and family kept telling me that I should be selling the stuff, to which I replied “Cool, thanks,” because I just took it all in as compliments. Years go by, I’m having fun with new recipes, reworking older ones, bottling it in real sauce bottles instead of canning jars, and growing my own peppers. It really wasn’t until my wife seriously suggested I sell the stuff I began to put effort into starting a company. However, what she actually meant by the suggestion was, “I just want you to make some money back from this expensive hobby of yours!” And from this miscommunication, the concept of Pepplish was born.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

When I was getting started in 2015, I didn’t know anything about business other than how to start one, and that was only because I got a lawyer to do the incorporation paperwork! So, August 2015 is what I would consider the “soft launch” of Pepplish, and November 2016 is when the company actually started production and sales. However, this story starts somewhere around January 2016, when I’m introduced to a man who was a teacher at a local high school in Queens and heads the instructional learning on their farm. Yes, you read that correctly, a farm at a high school in Queens. Well, after I had this brief conversation, I just left it on the back burner because I was nowhere near ready to commit to anything with them. Nine months later, October 2016, I get a phone call and the voice on the other line greets me and states who’s calling, to which I did not pay attention because I thought it was a spam call, and then I hear, “Your peppers are ready.” I was thoroughly confused because I didn’t order any, wasn’t in production yet and had no idea who this was on the phone. Turns out, it was the high school calling me to let me know they grew peppers for my business. I was experiencing both excitement and anxiety in one horrible mixed bag of feelings. I agreed to get only the green habaneros because they were more difficult to find at the time. I then thought to myself, “It’s a high school, it’s probably like a little garden, how much can they actually produce for me? 10, 15, 20 pounds maybe??” I get there and they have around 120 pounds of green habaneros ready for me. Me being unprepared was an understatement. And these were just the green ones! That is when I learned they have a large farm at the school where they have an academic elective program in agriculture. I found this so interesting because I would have never thought there would be a land farm at a high school that is integrated into an academic program in NYC.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The biggest mistake I think I made was thinking I could do more than I actually could. The very first production run in November was a nightmare, to put it politely. I had planned to do all three of my original flavors and all within a 6.5-hour shift. Suffice to say, I had bitten off more than I could chew. I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea what to expect. It was foolish of me to expect to get so much done in my first run. The lesson I learned is to always underestimate the time, effort, and cost of attempting something new because it minimizes waste if things don’t go as planned. While I may lose some in terms of opportunity cost, it’s better than the alternative of what I actually went through. I had to throw out the entirety of two flavors and a third of one because they were not done being processed, I was covered in hot pepper residue from hastily cleaning, I had to pay overtime rates for going into the next shift, and I inconvenienced another company who was waiting to use the space I was in. I was utterly embarrassed, but I’m glad I didn’t look at this experience as a failure. I used it to learn how to increase efficiency in processing, and prepare a production plan for an appropriate amount of sauce the next time.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

One of the things I’m most proud of is what was mentioned earlier about the school. My recipes use peppers grown by local high school students here in Queens, at John Bowne High School. Students who choose to do the program learn things like the science involved with farming, farming techniques, and even animal care! Yes, animal care, they have animals there! Another way I try to make a beneficial social impact is that I only use fair trade certified sweeteners in my sauces because I believe all farmers and their workers deserve a fair living wage across the world. And lastly, I look for opportunities to give to charities relating to poverty alleviation, environmental preservation, and scientific research for a better tomorrow.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

This isn’t one about a particular individual, but a group. One of the charities I was referred to early on in my business was Freeset, a clothing company based in India which teaches women, who were formerly sex trafficked, business management and manufacturing skills so that they don’t have to return to a life of prostitution. At one of their factories in India, the women working there needed to walk four flights of stairs just to get a drink of clean water. It was about the same time I had put in an order for a set of shirts for my company when I found out about this problem. It was very early on in my business, so donating over 100 dollars was difficult within my tight budget, but it broke my heart seeing no one had decided to help thus far. I wanted to help in any way I could to get them a water filtration system for their floor, and I’m glad to say I was able to allocate some money to do a “dollar for dollar” match campaign with Freeset to get them their own clean water to drink on their floor. The water filtration system was fully funded in just a few days.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

I believe that if these three things were addressed, it would provide relief to a lot of farmers and farmworkers today.

  1. All levels of government need to become more involved with regulating the agricultural industry and help protect farmers from unfair practices. Two things that I think need to be done are guaranteed fair prices for products based on costs and a larger open market to allow farmers to negotiate for their products.
  2. We as a community need to rally behind our local farmers and producers by inviting our elected officials to visit local farmers’ markets. Oftentimes, it takes connecting a face to an issue to help start the gears of change.
  3. We as a society need to become more aware of how our food gets to our tables. Visit farmer’s markets to talk to producers, consider joining a food co-op, or consider helping out on your local farm for a day or two. And I think it’s even more important to get our children involved.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I think leadership is ultimately guiding others to a “destination” while putting their needs before my own. Many studies have shown that employees don’t quit the job, they quit their bosses. More specifically, the manager to which they directly report. Leadership is about caring for the wellbeing of those who I am leading. Here are some examples, I would never ask anyone to do anything I would not be willing to do myself, I believe it’s necessary to check in with employees about how they’re doing or feeling, and I believe it’s important to make sure there is a forum for their voices to be heard and validated. I think too often businesses put the wellbeing of the business before the people and it really needs to be the other way around.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Prepare. Do all the research you can before starting a business. Please, for the love of God, do not just jump blindly into entrepreneurship. Try to learn everything there is to know about starting your particular business. Find out which permits, licenses, documentation, filings… anything you’d need to know to get started. The easiest way to do this is to reach out to companies who are doing what you plan to do and ask questions. If they turn you down, ask another company. People are generally friendlier than you’d expect. Also, if you have the means, save up your own starting capital and try to avoid taking out a loan. Owing someone else money when you get started is usually a recipe for failure because things don’t usually go as planned. You could end up owing a lot more than the principal amount and remain in debt for years. On the other hand, if you need to take one out, do your research, create a thorough business plan, have reliable numbers and figures ready to go to support your concept, and then consider taking out a loan. More importantly, if you have debt DO NOT start your own business. Please work towards becoming free of debt because it will make it a lot easier to save money for and start a business.
  2. Partner. Running a business can get very lonely, very fast. The highs are really high, and the lows are really low. I have found in the high times, it was easy to celebrate with others because all it took was a short post to social media and letting all the likes and followers flow in instant gratification. It’s easy to rejoice with those who rejoice, but it’s difficult to lament with those who lament. I think it’s difficult for our society to sit in uncomfortable feelings of sadness, fear, or anger. Failures or roadblocks aren’t something people typically put on display in front of everyone else. I highly recommend starting out with a business partner, someone you can trust with your thoughts and feelings, in addition to the finances of the business. And if you aren’t fortunate enough to have one (like me) look for a community of other entrepreneurs because even if they aren’t doing the same thing you are, there are similar experiences and feelings involved in entrepreneurship. I have found that just putting my thoughts and feelings into words helps tremendously.
  3. Pray. If you aren’t a spiritual person, meditate, or reflect on your current life and business situations. I think it’s important to have some sort of higher power to lean on in difficult times and to have a time of examination to better understand where I am and need to go next. Plus, it’s a time to stop, take a breath, and calm down from whatever may be going on with the business or life. I find when I take time to stop and pray/meditate/reflect, I find myself making better decisions because I’m not led by my fears or anger.
  4. Personal. Keep professional and personal life separate with a greater emphasis on personal. Jobs and businesses come and go, it’s the nature of those things. However, your personal life is your own and you live it every day no matter what happens. Make sure to take time off and away from the business. Spend time with friends and family while not being distracted by work because work doesn’t end and will always be there for you on Monday. Moreover, I think our lives should be characterized by the experiences we have and not what we do, otherwise, we’d be called human doings instead of human beings.
  5. Professional Counseling. As mentioned earlier, having someone to talk to about what we’re thinking and feeling is helpful, but it’s no substitute for professional counseling. Licensed counselors have helped me navigate through my own messy life and brought healing and restoration to what I thought was unfixable. If you’re married, I highly recommend marriage counseling because my wife is the closest person I have to what I would consider a partner in running this business. She’s there to support me emotionally, mentally, and sometimes financially. I would not be able to run this business without her support. Therefore, I believe it’s critical to invest in my marriage to the best of my ability.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Exploitation in farming worldwide is a problem. Too often, farmers are squeezed tighter and drained of their wages to the point were unfair, and sometimes despicable, practices become commonplace. We can look at the chocolate industry and how it enables slave labor in West Africa, the monocropping exploitation of Central America’s environment and peoples, and the unfair business practices right here in the US putting pressure on farmers to always produce and rarely profit. I believe the people of the world need to stand up and say enough is enough, our farmers are essential to our survival by providing food for us all, a basic human right.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” As a Christian, I firmly believe that other people aren’t my enemies. It’s the systemic, socialized “darkness” we learn from imperfect people in our lives. We do the best we can with what we know, but sometimes we hurt other people and we need to take ownership of that. It’s important to me to try to see the good in others and help build people up rather than tear them down.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I think it would be pretty cool to meet with Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream because they are basically doing with their company what I want to do with mine. And who wouldn’t want to possibly have ice cream for breakfast??

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter with @pepplish for all three.

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