Cutter Stevens and Vince Votan, trained chefs, are renowned for their food and their parties.
Their Oktoberfest feasts, crawfish boils, and other events attract hundreds of friends to their Hollywood headquarters.
While cooking is their passion, Cutter was making computer chips and Vince was building cabinets before the outbreak of Covid-19.
As the pandemic slowed the demand for these products, the pair turned back to food to make the most of their time in lockdown.
We spoke to Cutter about the launch of their condiments line, the philosophy behind Open Bar Ghetto Gourmets, and how a Zyro website helped spread the word about their bacon jam and other delicious creations.
Our hot sauce sold out in 15 seconds
What’s behind the name – Open Bar Ghetto Gourmets? The ‘Open Bar’ part of it is actually Vince’s house, where we hold our events.
We usually do 5 or 6 events a year, like an Oktoberfest dinner, an outdoor hamburger event in spring, then a giant 4th of July party for 300-400 people with boiled crawfish.
I’m the saucier and Vince is the executive chef. Then, we’ve got a baker for breads and cakes, a dessert maker, and an aid in training.
Meanwhile, ‘Ghetto Gourmets’ was an organization that threw 5-course gourmet dinners in the San Francisco ghetto but folded about a decade ago. So when we started doing the same kind of thing, people started calling us that.
When the pandemic hit, we both suddenly found ourselves with a lot of free time, and we figured: let’s make a hot sauce.
It sold out in 15 seconds.
Mustard followed, ketchup, bone stock; we’ve run the gamut. It just kept on going because, otherwise, we’d sit and watch TV all day.
Basically, people tell us what they want to make and we come up with a sauce to go with it.
Bacon jam has been the most popular
It’s been the most requested of all our condiments and the biggest seller too.
Essentially, we smoke a bunch of pork bellies and render all the fat off, then caramelize it. The last order, we did 4 big pork bellies, 30 pounds of onions, and 10 pounds of shallots.
All of this then cooks down over days and becomes jam-like.
The average pork belly, once it’s smoked and cured, it’s still about 40% fat. So, to make sure you don’t have a heart attack every time you eat it, we take most of the fat out.
It’s one of the most amazing things anyone has ever tasted.
Also, it’s super bad for you.
I don’t want my friends just eating it with a spoon out of the jar, because that’s the equivalent of eating 10 pieces of bacon in each spoonful.
We’re making things you don’t see on the grocery shelves
Vince is into a more Asian style of cooking, focusing on his various sambals (hot chili sauces).
I’m more of a saucier, concentrating on higher-end condiments most people wouldn’t know unless they’re a hardcore foodie.
We only really make what we think we’ll need.
All of the ingredients are really expensive and we’re making unique stuff. The sambal is with real peppers from Thailand, and with my bacon jam, I get my pork bellies from a farm and smoke them myself.
We need to be careful when we’re making the recipes that we don’t make too much, so it’s always going to be a little scarce.
We’ve been cooking together for 15 years
Vince prefers to be the executive chef, and a lot of times I let him. We’ve been friends for almost 20 years and we’ve been cooking together for 15, so we’ve learned each other’s quirks.
We feed off each other and it works, otherwise we’d stop.
The condiments just kind of came out as a pandemic thing, but we’ll keep on doing it after the pandemic is over (knock on wood).
It’s definitely a side hustle, but since this pandemic has lasted 7 months, it’s become full-time.
Last night was up until 3.30 in the morning making ketchup.
We weren’t reaching enough people through Facebook
We’re trying to grow Open Bar Ghetto Gourmets into a brand, hence putting a website together.
We never thought we’d need a website before. It was a little for the store, a little for the exposure.
We’ve got a Facebook page, an Instagram, and we’ve got hashtags going. All of our friends are helping us out forwarding things along and sharing stuff.
But we had a lot of people we weren’t reaching through Facebook. Facebook has become less popular than it used to be, and people were saying: “I don’t have a Facebook account anymore,” and the same thing with Instagram.
So we basically decided we needed a website that was central and everyone could get to.
The website was up and running in a day
We didn’t want a site that was just cookie-cutter like everyone else has. I chose Zyro because the templates are a more unique and easy to work with than other website builders.
I’m not a software guy, I’m a hardware guy.
The last website I designed was in 2009, and it was like a week and a half of struggling to get everything to look right.
It even took a long time just to publish and update it. I was using the Adobe HTML builder and it was awful.
Meanwhile, Zyro can make eCommerce simple, the hardest part was finding the photos in our library. I was up and going in half a day.
It’s easy and relatively inexpensive. Sure, there are cheaper options, but in terms of bang for your buck, Zyro is definitely the best I’d say.
The other thing that was really easy was that I bought the domain ages ago because it was available.
Linking my Zyro site to the domain I bought from GoDaddy was super easy. It took 2 minutes.
Success is making people happy
With the pandemic, it’s nice being able to sell stuff online and make a little extra money, and not just be blowing into my savings.
But it’s always been, even before this business started, about making cool events happen, having great parties and making people happy.
We’re running an event next weekend.
Our friends got bummed out we had to cancel our July 4th party and annual Oktoberfest feast. So, we figured we’d do something social distanced.
People can come down, get something to go, and say hi. That’s the idea behind it, rather than trying to make money or anything like that.
We just miss all our friends.
We’re not interested in becoming a worldwide brand.
We’ve worked in enough restaurants in our time that we know that everything is great when you’re small. But then you get that one Michelin star and your life gets thrown upside down.
It stops being fun.
We definitely want to grow our business, but we also want to keep it fun at the same time. When it’s no longer fun, we’ll stop. We’re both 50 years old and we don’t have time for that kind of stress anymore.
If someone wants to buy the business, great, otherwise we’re happy to continue throwing massive parties and making everyone happy.