Saucy Sweethearts

Laura and Robert Ubriaco with their Halesite Habanero in front of Stew Leonard’s in East Meadow. (Photo courtesy of Laura Ubriaco)

Laura and Robert Ubriaco, a couple who both grew up in the Plainview-Old Bethpage community and met each other in high school, recently started selling their own organic hot sauce called “Halesite Habanero,” named after their current town of residency.

“My husband is a weekend chef warrior, so he’s been cooking hot sauce for over a decade,” said Laura. “We like to garden. We started growing peppers and then he started making hot sauce.”

Despite living in the Huntington hamlet, the Ubriacos still have a deep connection with the Plainview community as a lot of their friends from high school still regularly spend time with them. When they experienced Robert’s hot sauce, they were the ones that convinced the couple to make this a business.

“They started demanding the hot sauce every time they ran out because they loved it so much,” said Laura. “He just kept cooking it. I’m a package designer by trade so we took one batch, made some small bottles of hot sauce and handed them out. He got so much positive feedback that we decided to just do it.”

When the two of them decided to start selling these batches of hot sauce, Laura convinced Robert to go organic to have the ingredients stay fresh. The hot sauce is made with organic habanero peppers, carrots, lime juice, water, garlic, salt, ground black pepper and vinegar.

“I’m a huge organic, clean-eating crazy person, so I said I’ll be on board if we go to organic,” said Laura. “We ran the numbers and it really was not that big of a difference. I can stand behind the product more and we can do this together. There’s so few products nowadays that use actual fresh food. With our product, we can use fresh produce and make it shelf-stable.”

Halesite Habanero is made with organic habanero peppers, carrots, lime juice, water, garlic, salt, ground black pepper and vinegar. (Photo by Laurie Mosco)

Initially, the Ubriacos and their friends called the hot sauce “Robaneros” after the chef but after they found out the name was already trademarked, they decided to go with Halesite Habanero after their current town. They found a kitchen at the Entrepreneur’s Space in Long Island City to make their hot sauce, which was a perfect fit since the organization supports new and growing businesses.

“Our friends and families are the biggest rock stars,” said Laura. “They are so supportive and they spread the word so much that our first batch was gone. My cousin bought two cases and handed them out at work. The response from everybody has just been amazing.”

Then came a big opportunity: Back in April, grocer Stew Leonard’s invited local companies to showcase their products in video submissions for the chance to get their product sold in all six store locations.

“My uncle actually sent us a newspaper clipping of the ‘Stew’s Tank’ contest a couple of days before the contest was about to end,” said Laura. “We quickly put a video together and got it over there.”

A few days later, they got a phone call from the people at Stew Leonard’s letting them know that they were one of the 12 finalists selected to move onto the next round.

“We were actually at our friend’s house when we got the phone call,” said Laura. “My husband was so happy that he had tears. I told them that I was going to be gone for an hour to fill out the paperwork and I’ll be right back. For a small business like us to get this opportunity is really amazing.”

As finalists, the couple got to show their product off for about a month at the Stew Leonard’s location in East Meadow at 1897 Front St. In about nine days time, they sold 17 cases of hot sauce, which amounts to more than 400 bottles sold. The product is still available at the location until July 7, when the winning products will be announced shortly after.

“Working with Stew Leonard’s and their story of them starting out as a farm and ending up a supermarket chain was kind of like a cool way for us to enter the market,” said Laura. “My end game would be to have a farm to grow all the fresh produce myself, so that way we’re really making it from start to finish. So they went from a farm to a retail store and hopefully we go from a retail store to a farm.”

For the Ubriacos, they are so grateful for their family and friends in the Plainview-Old Bethpage community for their continued support of their work. Without them, they don’t think this would be possible.

“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for all of those Plainviewites,” said Laura. “The whole crew we knew in high school is still that same crew that pushed us to even do this. They are all so supportive and helpful. Our family still lives in Plainview, so that’s our tribe.”

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Christopher Birsner
In addition to being the editor of the Massapequa Observer and Plainview-Old Bethpage Herald, Chris Birsner is the sports editor for Long Island Weekly and often contributes gaming articles to the arts and entertainment publication.

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