We had the good fortune of connecting with Cameron Ayers and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Cameron, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
I have always wanted to have my own business and for the longest time thought that would be in the form of a restaurant or food truck. I have worked in restaurants my whole life, beginning with my first job at Village Inn in high school in 2007! Since then, I have held just about every position in a restaurant, mostly in the kitchen. Back then I was always thinking of different concepts and ideas for something of my own, especially after finishing culinary school. Coming up with crazy ideas for restaurants with my friends and making plans for the next big thing “that can’t possibly fail” at the bar after work was a common occurrence.
One year for the holidays me and my, then girlfriend now wife, were short on cash to get gifts. We decided to make everyone a bottle of hot sauce! Cheap, delicious, spicy and homemade, who wouldn’t want that? I fermented some peppers, onions and garlic for a few weeks and blended them up. We hand drew personalized labels on the “Hello My Name Is” stickers and gave them out! We made about 20 bottles initially just for friends and family. Then a couple weeks later, they were asking for more. This time I made a bigger batch and gave some bottles to new people as well. Soon friends were coming up to me in the bar or on the street asking when the next batch was coming! At that point I thought, maybe I could actually turn this into something! I began researching what it would take to start a hot sauce business. It was pretty difficult to find out what I actually needed to do to get this going. They don’t make it easy to find information on how to start a food business! But after scouring the web and getting some great advice from “Horsetooth Hot Sauce”, a local established hot sauce company in Fort Collins, I got the ball rolling. It took about two years of playing around with different flavors, making sure I was taking all the appropriate steps, and getting the licenses I needed before I launched Oso Rojo for real. I just had Oso Rojo’s first birthday this past October and this first year has been insane!
I never thought that I would be the owner of a hot sauce company but here I am and I love it! Owning a business is something that I always wanted to do. Being your own boss is pretty darn amazing. It is everything I expected and more. I have learned you need a lot of self discipline to make sure you get where you want to be. It is a lot of work and sometimes very frustrating but at the end of the day is totally worth it.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Along with graduating from culinary school, I have worked as a dishwasher, bus boy, server, prep cook, line cook and kitchen manager. I have also managed a food truck, helped open a restaurant in Australia, and even worked on a farm in Fort Collins. I helped raise pigs and chickens for eggs and meat to see and learn where the food we eat comes from. I always wanted to learn how to cook a variety of foods and working at different restaurants was the best way to do that. I have seen it all, crazy nights with never ending food orders, people walking out from stress, co-workers rising to the occasion, and teams that could handle the busiest Saturday night dinner rush! Restaurants are not for the faint of heart, they teach you a lot of lessons. The biggest lessons I learned from those days that helped me out when starting Oso Rojo are how to be self reliant, how to work with a team and how to push through no matter how hard things get.
In my hot sauce career I am very proud of how far I have come and how much Oso Rojo has grown. Starting a business during the pandemic was not easy. I now have three different collaboration hot sauces with three different breweries here in Colorado, Odell, WeldWerks and Cerebral. I have another collaboration in the works with a brewery in Windsor and two more sauces coming out with Odell and Cerebral! I just finished my first full farmers market season and am looking to grow to add a couple more markets next year! I am also very excited to enter in a few hot sauce competitions next year to hopefully win some awards! I am very excited to see where Oso Rojo is in the next five years.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I would definitely take them to my favorite breweries here in Colorado! Odell, Cerebral, WeldWerks, Peculier Ales, Our Mutual Friend. You can’t come to Denver and not go to a brewery. After that I would take them to Owl Bear Barbeque for lunch and Mister Oso for happy hour. We would then go to Cheesman Park to play some yard games. For dinner we would head over to Knockabout Burgers in Avanti and then back to finish the night at whatever brewery we missed or head over to 1up arcade for some games!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I definitely would not be where I am today without the help from my parents. My mom is my accountant and helps out so much with the financial side of things, and my dad is the expert sauce bottler and labeler and all around Renaissance man! They both help out so much every day it’s pretty incredible. My wife is also a huge help in keeping my stress levels down to a manageable level. She is great at helping design the new labels we come out with for our collaborations with local breweries here in Colorado! Without her I probably would never have new stickers, merch or cool new labels for all the sauces.
I also want to shout out Horsetooth Hot Sauce in Fort Collins. When I was first starting Oso Rojo I had a lot of questions and they answered everything they could. I started out cooking in their commissary, where they showed me how to use bottling equipment and the fastest way to get things done.