This profile is part of a weeklong Next America series on the experiences of minority small-business owners in the United States.
Call it a "hot sauce bias." Brennan Proctor, the creator of Uncle Brutha's gourmet hot sauces can tell you all about it. His product is too richly complex to be a basic condiment. Yet it is precisely the delicate balance of heat and flavor that can challenge the egos of restaurant chefs. Will putting this local, relatively unknown hot sauce on the table detract from the food that comes out of the kitchen?
"I've approached celebrity chefs," Proctor says. "They say, 'We don't need any sauce like that. We make our own.' Then I look over and I see Tabasco or Texas Pete on the tables."
It's this bias toward the known, big-name brands that Proctor must hurdle every time he walks into a restaurant or store and asks the managers to stock his product. It's not that his hot sauce isn't good. (It's amazing.) But it's also not something that customers demand, and that makes it too easy for an overworked vendor to say no.
Proctor's experience trying to turn Uncle Brutha's into a profitable enterprise offers a stark view of the barriers faced by small businesses everywhere. They operate on the fringes of the market. No matter how good their product or service is, they have so little margin for error that a wrong decision or an unexpected turn of events can be ruinous. Bigger and more established companies don't have those same vulnerabilities, which means their managers are allowed to be human--say, by making a bad sales call.