October 13, 2021

October Lexington Dinner Series Maker: K-Mama Sauce (Season 3 Episode 55)

KC Kye knew from an early age he had a mind for business. KC turned his mama’s Korean sauce that she made at home into K-Mama Sauce. KC call’s K Mama Sauce the Korean ketchup and after debuting at Farmers Markets and events around the Twin Cities 7 years ago he is now in 50 Target stores and also selling through Amazon.com.

K Mama sauce will be a featured Maker at the second  Makers of Minnesota diner at the Lexington in St Paul on October 26th. Get tickets here

Each month we will feature three local vendors and include their goods and products in a special 3-course menu. Enjoy a special evening celebrating our local makers and their creative spirit.

Guests are invited to enjoy cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvres in The Williamsburg Room from 6:00-6:30 pm followed by a 3-course dinner created by Chef Antonio utilizing products from three local makers.

Our October Dinner will feature products from:

– Stickney Hill Dairy’s The Humble Goat Cheese

 K-Mama Sauce

 Sweetland Orchard

You will be our exclusive guest at The Lexington and get to talk to the makers, as well as pre-order your first-ever Makers Of Minnesota Holiday gift box featuring K-Mama Sauce that I have curated. Get your tickets now and join us on October 26 for a fun night celebrating the wonderful Makers of Minnesota.


Stephanie Hansen  00:00

Well maker’s friends. The September dinner at the Lexington was such a hit. We decided to keep it going for October. We’re hosting another makers and Minnesota dinner at the Lexington in St. Paul. Not only will you be front and center with some of the best makers in the Twin Cities, but you will be treated to a three course dinner compliments of chef Antonio from the Lexington who will be using the featured makers ingredients in the courses that he’s making for this special event. Our October dinner is Tuesday October 26. And tickets are $98 our featured makers are sold on including sweetland orchard out of Webster Minnesota was making beautiful ciders apple cider and hard cider is that their orchard with over 50 varieties of apples. And also on deck is the humble goat cheese made by the folks at the award winning Stickney Hill dairy company. And k mama sauce. The slightly spicy and slightly sweet came mama Korean hot sauce. I’m just crazy about this awesome my friend and maker case he calls it the Korean ketchup. He puts it on everything at his house. And I do too. And it’s featured in the first ever makers, a Minnesota holiday box filled with my favorite products from makers in the Twin Cities. So we’ll be taking orders for the boxes on site at the Lex two, which I’m excited about. I just can’t wait to see how chef Antonio will use all these ingredients in his multicourse menu. We’ll have a limited number of tickets for this special dinner and when they’re gone, they’re gone. So go to the lex mn.com and sign up via Eventbrite for the makers of Minnesota dinner for October. Get your tickets now at the lex mn.com. For Tuesday, October 26 at the Lexington Hello everybody and welcome to the makers of Minnesota podcast. I’m Stephanie Hansen talking to cool people doing cool things. And I’m here to catch up with Casey Kai. He is the founder of K mama sauce. And we’ve talked to K mama A while back I want to say Casey that maybe it was like two years ago, but so much has happened with your we’ll call it the Korean ketchup is the way that you describe it. I love it. Yeah, you guys are like taking the world by storm and target in particular. That’s so exciting.

KC Kye  02:17

Yes. Hi, Stephanie. Yes, no, it’s it’s been a little while. And I think, you know, I feel like when it rains it pours. So we you know, we got to talk to Tom CRAN on NPR that happened quickly. And then I think part of it was getting the traction in stores with target and other retailers in Minnesota. But as to your question with target, it was Yeah, I think it just happened gradually over the last three years now that we’ve been working with them and they’re a great partner obviously. And it’s, it’s, you know, we started with one store, then, you know, 20 an hour and oh, close to 50 both here in Minnesota and Chicago. And it’s you know, it’s one of those things where it’s it because it’s so hands on, we self distribute, which just means we deliver ourselves and we have to make sure they look good on the shelf and, and it’s just, you know, people’s tastes are changing all the time. So each store to you know, it’s dependent on each of the managers. And so, thankfully, over the last three years, we’ve had a gradual growing relationship with each of those store managers and especially the staff who work there, they have started to really grown up basically a following in the stores that’s helped, that helps us get more traction. And then a month and a half ago, a friend messaged me DM me on Instagram, and you know, without the cussing. Did I just see you on a target commercial and target forgot to mention that they aired us in a 15 second commercial spot that aired about 400 times nationally. We’re not so nationally. So it’s it was kind of their loss, but also huge just because you know, I have family and friends who happen to come across that commercial in Atlanta or California and they they also had the same reaction.

Stephanie Hansen  04:08

Yeah, I saw the commercial too, that you posted and I was like, holy crap, that’s exciting. You know, you’re in an interesting category, I think because your product is k mama sauce. And that’s not like you have to evangelize to explain what that is. And to describe what that is. It isn’t like you’re just another form of honey or a type of candle. So can you talk about like tell the listeners what came on my sauce is in case they don’t know. Yes. And then I want to ask you some more questions about the target relationship.

KC Kye  04:41

For sure. So Kay Mama, it literally means Korean mom sauce. The simplest way to explain it is that it’s a sauce that goes in a traditional Korean dish called give me Bob and the sauce is derived from a place called goji dzong red pepper paste very popular these days with chefs and at home cooks and yeah, it’s a pungent fermented pace. And then my mom’s version, add soy sauce, sesame oil. And you know a couple of the things that blends together. I grew up eating that because we had that in like a little Tupperware thing all the time in my mom’s fridge in our fridge, and she would just come and put it as marinate a glaze soup starter. So we’ve come to use the term flavor enhancer right. But I think the simplest way to explain it, it’s it’s more flavor than soy sauce, and it’s less pungent and spicy than Saroja. If you know that’s kind of the point on that side. But yeah, it is it is hot. It is not not hot. So I always explain to people that it is spicy, but it’s not it’s not meant to be kind of the next Melcher face off hot sauce.

Stephanie Hansen  05:54

Yeah, and it’s I don’t even I mean I like hot and I don’t even actually think it’s the mild isn’t really that hot at all. And the consistency is kind of like a ketchup. Versus like a Sriracha, which is a little has a little more grain to it. I guess in the appearance it’s pretty smooth looking. Glad to hear you say that because like I put it on tacos. I put it in ramen. I use it to marinate meat. I use it to finish ribs. I use it in the instant pot with rice like I just use it all the time.

KC Kye  06:28

Yeah top themes right there that’s

Stephanie Hansen  06:31

an eggs too I mean come on. How can you forget eggs? And what’s really exciting for me about this sauce is I feel like it is so accessible and really like helps introduce people to your culture in a way that’s really easy and like I my niece’s love your sauce I introduced them to it because they loved soy sauce. And I was like oh there’s so much more than soy sauce let me show you their sauces. And my my one niece says can you bring over that mom sauce? Because she calls it that because that’s how she remembers that.

KC Kye  07:09

Love that all that so sweet. Yeah, no, I think that’s that’s what it’s meant to be is you know, I grew up in the states I’m Korean I’m of Korean descent but I grew up in Jersey, you know, I grew up here with Italians, Jews, Jewish, you know, I grew up with a multicultural background and and my palate does lean towards Korean just because I love my mom’s cooking. But, you know, I think in a busy 2021 kind of situation, we want a variety of food. I didn’t think this is meant to, as you know, so pointedly pointed out that it’s meant to introduce and be that accessibility point with light without a huge hurdle. And I think that the discomfort of trying something new or wanting to try something new is we want to decrease that right so I think having our story having that the design it’s meant to be Invitational it’s meant to be hospitable. The sauce is it’s my mom’s hospitality and Korean hospitality in one bottle. And yet, we try to do that by saying yes, make Korean food, but also make some amazing Korean tacos, like your commercial,

Stephanie Hansen  08:17

your mom must be so proud of you. When you say you get into target and this happens, I think at hyvee too, you know, it’s this huge excitement and then everyone sort of assumes you’re in like a million stores, right? And what you’ve identified is as a self distribution model, that you really have to win over each Target store manager kind of one by one by one. I don’t think people know that and do you like have to spend like do you have a team that goes into the stores? Or do you do that all by zoom? Or how do you create that relationship with the store?

KC Kye  08:53

And that’s, that’s like that’s the million dollar question. It’s, it is all relationships and I think anyone who does food CPG in Minnesota but elsewhere knows that it’s really you have to sell one person at a time that this time it happens to be the manager of a target so I think you still have to convince the manager convince the staff and the store directors to say hey like give us a try and see if it works and if it doesn’t that’s fine. So we’ve you know, we’ve had that kind of ebb and flow of you know what we need to find the best stores for us and target right you need to be a win win. So I think you know over time some stores don’t work out and that’s okay we need to say by that but you know, majority of the stores do have enough wide enough audience and sales to say okay, this is convincing enough let’s let’s keep you guys so i think it’s it’s going back to we started in farmers markets, we started on our website, and even before Amazon, we were really just trying to sell you know, one bottle at a time and i think that’s that’s kind of that relationship with target. It’s and it’s you know it’s not perfect we’ve we’ve had our bumps in the road and it’s like any relationship like any marriage basically right it’s you’re gonna have your fights and disagreements and I think any retailer right that we work with will will try our best to say hey it’s it’s we shouldn’t bend over backwards neither should you let’s let’s try to do our best

Stephanie Hansen  10:22

I think targets hard too because you can’t really do like sampling and for a product like yours either people have to take the leap and buy it and bring it home or they have to have tried it so because you can’t sample in store I know I have another friend that’s in target right now and she’s like I getting it a target was the holy grail and she goes but I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be to move product once I’m there because people don’t know what to do with my product I have to show them and I can’t do that

KC Kye  10:52

yeah it’s when you’re especially a food product that’s the hardest thing is prior to COVID we were given permission at certain locations to be able to demo it demonstrate right so to do it to demos for sampling that has completely ceased corporate what you know all our target stores don’t do not allow that. So we’re really kind of you know, emailing them making sure what when that happens the allowance to us to demo we want to be in front of people’s faces. But you know, one of the best things that has happened for us is because we’ve concentrated so much of our energy basically on target you know, the retailers were in town as well but targets kind of our our biggest customer and partners so that you know this is you’re coming up on year seven and march for us so thankfully, all of the the critical mass, the support, the loyalty, the love, and people like you, Stephanie have really given us those platforms to say hey, like we’re still around, and we’re still good, we’re actually trying to do better. And we’re, you know, smaller bottles online, we’re doing, you know, new gift sets, we’re just trying to, you know, get to the customer more and I think that like half of our new customers are in target now. Whereas the other half are still you know, buying from our website. And it’s we’re just recently at a festival in St. Paul called the veggie Fest, right. And that’s, that was the fourth one we went to this is the seventh year in existence. And I think something like that, you know, having those type of local festivals little plug here, we’re going to be in a hot sauce festival in Roseville called heat up your life. And Ben bros jewelry in the second Saturday of October. But like those types of events, as small or as big as they are, they drive the customers. Oh, they’re in the store. Or or now it’s the customers who find us in the store, thankfully, because we’re in so many shells in target, for example, then they find us at festivals to say, Oh, my guys are trying to come up with new stuff. What What else, I have

Stephanie Hansen  12:50

T shirts, aprons, you did so many events for years, and like stone arch festival and you’ve done a lot of riverplace markets and a lot of the events I’ve been involved in. So when I saw you on target, I already know the product. I’m familiar with it. It’s It’s It’s not one thing, it’s all the things right that lead up to that moment where the consumer stands in a target and goes oh yeah, I remember that guy. And then picks up the sauce and I’d love to see you guys they have cholula now in like the Taco Bell packets, the sauce Packers will call them for money, you know what I’m referring to? I’d love to see a K mama and a Pac Man that

KC Kye  13:28

that that would be that would be ideal that we do have two ounce bottles for sale in our website. But we certainly do pass that along as we do selling that festivals. But I think that’s kind of our plan now is what is the you know, obviously, sample size enough for as many people with the potential I mean, we’re really talking to target saying on that conversation of target with target corporate to say, Hey, you know, we’ve been doing well, and if you can see that, and you can see especially putting that much resources in the commercial, especially because that it’s not cheap to produce that and aerate and to say, Hey, this is this is a solid brand out of Minnesota, local Minnesota brand. So that we were aiming for 250 Super targets nationwide, regionally, if that’s kind of the launch we’re looking for, but we’re in that conversation now. So hopefully, you know knock on wood, maybe like six months.

Stephanie Hansen  14:23

You could flavors or rotisserie chickens.

KC Kye  14:26

Oh my gosh would be great. I won’t share it because it hasn’t gone through yet. But we did get a request from a local public school district for a lunch program so things things of that nature. We we obviously welcome and we’ve had many discussions like that or meal kids. I mean, yeah, we’d love to have that introduction phrase

Stephanie Hansen  14:47

food. All right. Well, we’re gonna have you at the Lexington you’re at our second makers dinner that we’re doing for makers in Minnesota. The first dinner actually happened last night in KC I can’t even tell you how great it was. So many of the people that came, hadn’t heard of some of these brands that we featured. And then the maker was there and they could talk about their product. And then they would eat it in this lovely iteration that was done by chef Antonio at the lax. It was fun. It was like fun to kind of get your dress up clothes on and wear some makeup and get out of your sweat pants. Had a great time.

KC Kye  15:25

The photos looked amazing the posts that came through Instagram, oh my goodness, they’re fancy. There’s some fancy foods there. I love your idea for this. I mean, this is such a phenomenal collaboration. And I don’t know, I mean, not like just the post. But this is you, you you you work really hard with you know, the the folks that are involved and the makers We very much appreciate the opportunity. It looks so awesome. So I’m sure there’s so much tons of work that went into Oh, seeing it and making that happen. Stephanie so

Stephanie Hansen  15:56

it was a labor of love. I’m actually really excited to see what chef Antonio does with your product. And then we’re also going to have the humble goat cheese from Stickney Hill dairy and then sweetland orchard our friend Gretchen pre Beck’s is going to be doing I think she’s going to be doing like an ice wine. She’s got apples but also cider so however that will all come together will be fun.

KC Kye  16:18

I’m super stoked. That’s that sounds amazing.

Stephanie Hansen  16:21

You are also in the makers of Minnesota box that we have our we had five samples put together of that box and we sold them all at the lax last night people really liked it. That is a box that will be available to buy it is from the website, love minnesota.com and then backslash gifting is how you can find the Minnesota box. I’ll put a link to it in the show notes here but I really I’ve been a big fan of yours since literally the first time you came to one of my markets and your sales technique was so amazing that people to try your sauce because people just walk by and like look at booths and go oh what’s that? And you were like no, you need to come and try this. I’ve got some rice here. Put them together. I’ve got carrot sticks eat it. It’s really good. So I’m in the box.

KC Kye  17:12

Thank you and that’s that’s the jersey that’s usually come coming here. Right You coming love to

Stephanie Hansen  17:17

that jersey. Thank you so much, Casey, I look forward to seeing you at the dinner in October. People can get tickets again, there’ll be a link in the show notes or you can buy tickets at the Lex mn Comm. They were just really great hosts and really excited about the next round and we’ll talk to you soon. Casey.

KC Kye  17:34

I’m very much looking forward to it. Stephanie. Okay, thank

Stephanie Hansen  17:36

you. All right, bye bye. Right. So join me for the makers in Minnesota dinner at the Lexington in St. Paul on Grand Avenue. I can’t wait to meet you and introduce you to sweetland orchard and came on my sauce and the humble goat cheese from Stickney Hill dairy so get your tickets at the lex mn.com. But hurry this special event won’t be available long, will sell out the restaurant for this special evening with a limited number of tickets. So make sure that you get online and get those tickets now for the October dinner on Tuesday, October 26