How Mike’s Hot Honey built a $40 million a year business

Mike Kurtz doesn’t like to travel without his briefcase. 

The crimson Franzen case is the same model as the iconic briefcase from Quentin Tarantino’s film “Pulp Fiction”. But unlike in the 1994 film, everyone knows exactly what’s inside. 

That’s because Kurtz is eager to show off how he had the suitcase wired to light up just like in the movie, with the built-in bulbs illuminating the amber hue of bottles of hot honey that bear his name. 

Indeed, the reason Kurtz brings the suitcase with him while he travels is so that he can spread the gospel of Mike’s Hot Honey, the spicy honey that has taken pizzerias by storm.

He loads the briefcase up with five 12-ounce bottles before every trip. Kurtz likes to give a bottle to the taxi driver who takes him to the airport, and then hands out a few to the check-in agents who handle his bags. By the time he gets to the security line, his briefcase is empty. 

Kurtz likes to give out bottles of honey from his “Pulp Fiction” inspired briefcase.

Raffi Paul, Mickey Todiwala | CNBC Make It

“I think there’s something about briefcases. You don’t see them around too often,” Kurtz says of his favorite marketing prop. “So whenever you do, there’s this subliminal message sent out to the people around you that whatever’s in the briefcase is of value. It’s gotta be important if you’re carrying it in a briefcase, right?”

Even now, nearly 20 years after he first started experimenting with making hot honey in his college apartment, Kurtz has an obvious passion for the product. And it’s his enthusiasm that inadvertently spawned a business that has captured a 2.5% share of the $1 billion U.S. honey market.

Here’s how Kurtz built up Mike’s Hot Honey from just a hobby into a company poised to bring in more than $40 million over the next year.

‘You know what? This might be the life for me’

A college-aged Kurtz in Brazil, where he found the inspiration for Mike’s Hot Honey.

Mike’s Hot Honey

From an early age, Kurtz had a desire to be a “condiment man.” He had a chance run-in with Larry Raymond, co-creator of the popular Sweet Baby Ray’s barbeque sauce, during his freshman year of college. The interaction, he says, left him feeling inspired. 

“I realized that condiments truly elevate food,” Kurtz tells CNBC

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