Few products have an origin story quite like Mike’s Hot Honey: the brand was born of one man’s quest to recreate a delicious sweet-heat flavor he had eaten on a pizza in Brazil while studying abroad. Upon returning home, Mike Kurtz began experimenting with different combinations of honey and chili peppers in his college apartment, eventually selling the resulting product out of Paulie Gee’s pizzeria in Brooklyn, starting in 2010. Now, Mike’s Hot Honey is featured on menus across the industry, in a variety of trendy applications.
According to Datassential, the term “hot honey” grew 176 percent on menus between 2016 and the end of 2020. Recently, the National Restaurant Association named “sweet heat” the number one flavor trend of 2020. A pioneer of this trend, Mike’s Hot Honey has organically grown from something Kurtz made as a hobby, to a product that’s changing the way quick-service brands build their menus.
“Culinary research and development departments are constantly focused on rolling out menu items that capitalize on trends,” Kurtz says. “What’s cool about our product is that it’s complementary to so many different types of menu items and can make them trendy with just a simple drizzle. So whether you’re using it on a chicken sandwich, or an ice cream sundae, there’s this sweet note up front and then the heat kicks in, and that helps different menu items stand out in a unique way and becomes a point of differentiation on your menu.”
Melt Shop, an 11-unit fast-casual brand based in New York, uses Mike’s Hot Honey across its menu in a variety of applications. It began in September 2017 with Mike’s Hot Honey Chicken Tenders, and more recently has been featured on a Mike’s Hot Honey Bun, a crispy fried chicken sandwich with jalapeno pimento cheese and Mike’s Hot Honey. Melt Shop has rolled out several virtual brands that use Mike’s Hot Honey on applications like wings, or mac and cheese, but also as a popular side that diners can use on anything they order.
“There’s such a creativity in the product that really aligns with who we are,” says Aarti Mehta, director of marketing with Melt Shop. “We’re dedicated to serving good food with flavorful, bomb combinations that maybe people have or haven’t had before. Mike’s fits in with that perfectly—It works so well across our whole menu.”
Metha also says Kurtz has been a constant and helpful presence in and around her restaurants. That’s something Kurtz has intentionally made a cornerstone of the Mike’s Hot Honey brand since its inception.
“We are really focused on fostering genuine connections with our foodservice customers,” Kurtz says. “If you look at our marketing efforts, we are always showcasing the brands that use our product and the way that they are using it. It’s a way of promoting a product but it’s also a way we build connections between our brand and our customers. If you’re going to promote us, we’re going to promote you, too.”
For more on adding Mike’s Hot Honey to your menu, visit the Mike’s Hot Honey website.