Growth & Jobs | 14-y-o's school project turns into spice blend business
Emily Rudnick remembers vividly the first time she and her dad mixed up a batch of the sneakily hot spice that bears her family name.
She and her dad stopped by the Savory Spice Shop in Denver and picked up the 15 ingredients including five different chillies that make up Rudspice, a dry concoction she started developing in 2014 after experimenting with barbecue dry rubs.
"We took them home and we mixed them up in our Kitchenaid and it did not go well," the 14-year-old said. "We had to leave the house for the day and leave all the doors open."
Sinus-stinging setbacks aside, Emily kept at it. Over the past few years, she's made several batches of the spice around the holidays to give to family and friends as gifts. In many cases, recipients came back and asked for more of the mix that Emily describes as something that stays on the tongue for a long time with "big flavour and slow kick".
Now, thanks in part to the motivation of an assignment at Greenwood Village's Aspen Academy where she attends school, the Colorado eighth-grader has taken Rudspice to a new place: retail shelves.
Two Savory Spice Shop locations in Denver are carrying bottles of the orange-shaded seasoning for a limited time.
"In eighth grade, you're assigned to write a business plan," Emily said. "I took it two steps further by actually creating a product and starting a business."
... Her father introduced her to cooking
Emily Rudnick didn't do it all on her own. Her father, David Rudnick, introduced her to cooking and dry spices and has put up the money to help her get Rudspice off the ground. A family friend helped her incorporate and trademark Rudspice. Carole Buyers, a Boulder-based venture-fund manager, has coached her on scaling up the business and her retail strategy.
Savory Spice Shop has been an important partner. After her mixer mishap, she and her dad began working with the staff at the store and warehouse to mix and bottle Rudspice in its facility.
Shortly after Emily received her business plan assignment in January, she emailed the company's founders, Mike and Janet Johnston. The Johnstons had Emily come out to their test kitchen. Mike, who his wife describes as having an uncanny ability to meld flavours, challenged Emily to tinker with her recipe. She eventually did, cutting some of the extra hot elements to make it more accessible to a wider range of people, and some of the more expensive ingredients to make it cheaper to produce.
They cooked with it, making blackened chicken. Then, with updated batches of Rudspice bottled, labelled and ready for sprinkling, two of Savory's stores held tasting events and cooking demos with it.
"Well, we (were) just incredibly impressed by her in general. Rudspice is very, very good," Janet Johnston said. "We thought it would be a great opportunity to help her out and take her product to the next level. And she's offered us a quality product to sell in our stores."
To complete her assignment, Emily will pitch her product to her Aspen Academy teachers in a presentation set in the style of the TV show Shark Tank. Nicole Kruse, the entrepreneurial institute coach at the private school, said every student at the K-8 institution attends daily leadership classes, and seventh- and eighth-graders run businesses on campus to help them develop an entrepreneurial mindset.
"I am not surprised by Emily's success," Kruse said in an email. "She is a motivated, dedicated, inspiring young woman. When she puts her mind to something, nothing can stop her."