Austin salsa company expands business, gives advice to others

Cooking up hot sauce and salsa started as a hobby for Tony Nunez. Now, he has made his family recipe into a business.

"I can't believe we're here. We're doing it. We're making it happen now," said Nunez.

The company name, Fantastic Fuego, is inspired by an Austin film festival. That also explains what Nunez calls his products.

"They're all nicknamed after movie titles. Even if the movie's not that great. It works for the salsa like we have attack of the Killer Tomatoes there," said Nunez.

A pineapple-based salsa mixture called "hard ticket to Hawaii" was prepared on Wednesday by Nunez and Austin White, his kitchen manager.

"It's been a very different ride watching this little small business grow. We were in a couple of stores when I started and now, we're in 20 to 30 stores," said White.

Fantastic Fuego has caught fire, going from a home kitchen to a shared commercial site in north Austin. Last year, Nunez sold 20,000 bottles of sauce and salsa. The plan now is to expand.

"The next step will also be getting into our own commercial kitchen space, and having a full-time staff that will help us, push the brand forward," said Nunez.

According to a recent survey by Bank of America, Nunez is not alone in his optimism. 65% of small business owners expect revenue to grow this year, and 40% want to expand. But only about 30% in the survey expect the national economy to improve over the next 12 months. 


The findings in the BOA survey didn’t surprise Rhett Buttle, who is a Senior Advisor with Small Business for America's Future.

"Some of the big pieces we're hearing that business owners are excited about is, the federal investments that are happening," said Buttle.

But like a flame cooking hot sauce, inflation and high interest rates have also increased the cost of supplies, requiring adjustments.

"I think more now than ever, we're seeing with small businesses, the most important thing you can do is be flexible, and really have the opportunity to reinvent yourself," said Buttle.

With opportunity there is also risk.

"Definitely there are lots of steps, and potential stumbling blocks in the future. We have an upcoming presidential election, which, as you know, sometimes can create a little, phase or, fog for business owners and how they're planning for their future. So, I would say, you know, it's an optimistic outlook, right now, the way things are trending. But I always encourage business owners to be prepared, because, like we saw in the last pandemic, you never know what could happen," said Buttle.

For Fantastic Fuego, the immediate focus Wednesday was on the latest batch of salsa that was cooked up. It should hit Shells store shelves in about two weeks. 

How not to get burned, beyond what he is bottling, is something Nunez said he has thought about.

"Part of the business plan is to have our, worst case scenarios and have a backup plan for that," said Nunez.