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Check Out Christina Coden’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Christina Coden.

Hi Christina, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I grew up in a family business but knew it would not last forever. My parents owned Red Hots Coney Island, a small restaurant that began in my family in 1921. Realizing my parents’ retirement was inevitable, in 2018 I began researching how to make, package, and sell our chili sauce retail. This recipe had been passed down 4 generations, and I did not want to see it end with the close of the restaurant. In July of 2021, we made our first official batch of Red Hots Chili Sauce. Later that month my parents retired and closed the coney island. Currently, you can find a one-pound refrigerated container of Red Hots Chili Sauce on the shelves of 27 local grocery stores, as well as being served in 5 local bars and restaurants.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
I really feel this question is a matter of perspective. I knew this was going to be a long, educational process. I had never taken a product from an idea to consumer purchase. I learned to talk to people. Tell them what you’re doing. The best help came from experience. For instance, I knew I did not want to make the chili. I would need a USDA-certified co-packer to produce the chili for me. Google only provided me with large co-packers, that would only do runs that were far larger than I knew I could handle starting off. It was through word of mouth that I found the co-packer I am utilizing today.

Also, there have been minimums on items purchased (such as cups, lids, and labels). Upon hours of searching and cold calls, I was able to find businesses willing to work with start-ups like myself. I would definitely say there were potholes along the way, and navigating wasn’t always easy, but I had tried to prepare myself for possible obstacles.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
What sets us apart from other companies, and what I am most proud of is the rich history of Red Hots Chili. It began as a super small coney island, selling just coney dogs (a hot dog with mustard, chili, and onions). Originally the workers would put two coneys in a bag on the steam table, a customer would walk in, grab the bag, leave the money in a wooden box on the honor system, and would leave. There was always one person manning the grill, and their job was to only roll and cook hot dogs. Another person’s job was to count the money left in the box hourly.

The coney then expanded in the late 1960s to accommodate 37 seated individuals. This also included the addition of French fries and ketchup. My dad began working there when he was 14 and would remain at the coney for 54 years. During a busy Saturday, you could find my dad, my mom, myself, and my grandmother all working together. Having two small children myself and being at the coney for 23 years, I knew I did not want to run a restaurant. But I couldn’t pass up the idea of packaging and selling the chili.

Now, my mom is retired and my dad works with me! He enjoys doing demos, making deliveries, and still being able to see customers and friends. Eventually, I am hoping my kids will get to work with him as well.

Risk-taking is a topic that people have widely differing views on – we’d love to hear your thoughts.
I have always thought risk-taking is important. It provides growth, change, and can really push you to be your best version. I have been in the field of education for 12 years. While I am pursuing this company, I am unsure to what capacity I will remain in education. So that would be my first risk. Potentially leaving a career I not only love but have poured my heart into.

There is also the monetary risk. Starting your own business takes money and time. I have a friend that utilizes the phrase “all-in.” When you own your own business, you have to be all-in, or you really can’t succeed or find the potential of that business.

Along with my risk-taking comes the risk-taking of others involved. My co-packer took a risk on me. Each grocery store that allows me on their shelves is taking a risk on Red Hots Chili. I never want to let any of these risk-takers down, so I’m always putting my best foot forward daily.

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Kya Liann

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