We had the good fortune of connecting with Julie Smyth and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Julie, how did you come up with the idea for your business?
I’ve always been an adventurer at heart with a passion for food. During a trip to Mexico to visit my in-laws, I spent hours in the kitchen with my mother-in-law learning how to cook her delicious dishes. She taught me how to make her homemade tomatillo salsa which eventually became known as my Verde Furioso hot sauce. I became so inspired by my mother-in-law’s authentic cooking and soaked in every minute of the experience.
Later on the trip I learned about a city in Oaxaca, Mexico called Tehuantepec. The women in this area have run their local markets for hundreds of year and thrive owning their own businesses. I was so inspired by these strong women, I wanted to do the same and create my own business.
When I came back from the States, I started creating a brand that would bring authentic Mexican flavors to people who might not have the opportunity to experience them. And to create hot sauces that would not only be spicy but also be packed with flavor that will enhance the taste of any dish they are placed on. These incredible sauces became known as Jack Del Fuego.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I have a background as an Art Director for the last 18 years and used that knowledge to build the brand of Jack Del Fuego. I was inspired to start my business after visiting different regions in Mexico, particularly the area of Oaxaca. Like most areas of Mexico, the culinary scene in Oaxaca is incredible. I fell in love with the local food and more importantly, the people. I learned about a city called Tehuantepec which is known for being a matriarchal society. The women here dominate the local markets and have run their own business for years. These women gave me the drive to do the same.
The jackrabbit that is on the Jack Del Fuego logo was also inspired by this region of Mexico. In this area there is a rare animal called the Tehuantepec jackrabbit. They are critically endangered and I hope to help preserve the species in the future.
During my early stages of development I’ve learned that moving forward is better than being perfect. I am a perfectionist and that can be sometimes helpful or get in the way of progress. I learned that you are always going to continue to evolve and perfect your business and your product.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Being a Chicago native, I believe that we have the best culinary foodie scene in the country. We also are known for the Millenium Park, Navy Pier, Adler Planetarium, Magnificient Mile, Sears Tower, Field Museum and the Aqua building which is the tallest structure in the world to be designed by a woman, architect Jeanne Gang.
My favorite restaurants to visit are Bar Sotano, Honey Butter Fried Chicken, Portillos, Happy Camper and Coco Pazzo. I promise you will want to keep going back to all of them.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I definitely have several people that have helped me evolve and supported me along the way of developing Jack Del Fuego. My husband, Armando has believed in my company since day 1 and has spent countless hours helping me develop the brand into what it is today. My family friends have also helped encourage me, supported me and have been my honest taste testers while I was creating each recipe.
And also I have The Hatchery Chicago to thank for getting me started in the right direction. They have an amazing organization with business classes, networking events and a staff that is overwhelmingly supportive for food startups.
Photo of me was taken by Brian Cooper. Photos of the Jack Del Fuego products were shot by Armando Zuniga.