- Noah Chaimberg launched Heatonist to provide fellow hot sauce lovers with a way to taste test flavors before committing to a purchase. He started the business selling bottles sourced from independent brands on a pushcart and later expanded to two physical locations, along with ecommerce and subscription models.
- When Heatonist began outgrowing its original in-house shipping space, the company moved into a larger warehouse location and Noah hired a third-party logistics provider. While Heatonist was receiving support on the shipping front, it was challenging to control how the logistics provider was packaging and shipping orders.
- After Heatonist moved its online store to Shopify and saw positive results, Noah decided to entrust Shopify Fulfillment Network with his shipping needs. Noah recognized that Shopify’s process was in line with Heatonist’s mission, and entrusting fulfillment to SFN gave his team the time needed to focus on growing the business.
Noah Chaimberg loves hot sauce. So much so, his obsession fueled the launch of HEATONIST, a business built to spread the love of hot sauce as far and as wide as possible.
“I don't remember the first time I had hot sauce, but in my family, we say I got it from my grandmother,” Noah reminisces. “She and I are the only two that have red hair, and she always loved the stuff.”
While Noah’s fervent love for hot sauce began as a small side project, Heatonist’s growth is a direct result of the team’s genuine passion for their product—a key ingredient that still shapes the business today.
“I started Heatonist just over six years ago out of my apartment in Brooklyn, NY, with a pushcart,” Noah says. “Back then, there was only the standard, commercial hot sauce brands. As a consumer, I wanted to branch out, so I'd pick up bottles here and there, but most of them just weren't that good, so I thought, ‘There has to be a place where you can try before you buy.’”
Heatonist became that place: a destination for those looking to dabble in the world of hot sauce and taste test different brands. Heatonist has a tasting room at its flagship location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where “hot sauce sommeliers” offer visitors complimentary guided tastings.
“We search the world for the best small makers of all-natural hot sauces and bring them together into a curated collection that we have at our two stores in New York City, as well as online,” Noah says.
These curated collections are also available in the form of monthly subscription “Hot Ones” boxes for customers who believe variety is the spice of life. This online subscription model has secured Heatonist recurring business that has proven to be scalable and strategic.
Today, Heatonist is the world's top hot sauce website thanks to their uncompromising passion for product. But their origin story begins with a pushcart and an entrepreneur's drive to deliver hot sauce to as many people as possible without compromising his values.
Bringing Heatonist to market
Though Heatonist became his first breakout success, Noah’s penchant for entrepreneurship goes all the way back to his teenage years. “I started my first business when I was 15. I was in high school, and I was selling Pokémon posters on eBay, and I had to get somebody to drive me to the post office to ship all of my packages each day,” he says. “I've loved entrepreneurship ever since.”
Heatonist launched with the same scrappy mentality. Long before opening the business’s first permanent retail locations, Noah brought his hot sauce to market—literally—in a pushcart.
“Starting from a pushcart and getting to where we are now, as the most trafficked hot sauce website in the world, has been amazing."
“I was selling at these pop-up markets and trying to figure out how I was going to bring hot sauce and have an appealing setup. I didn't want just to have a folding table,” Noah says.
“The other problem is hot sauce is really heavy. That’s when I had the pushcart idea. So I found this company that makes pushcarts meant for factory floors, where they move around big pieces of machinery, and I customized it with a plexiglass top that was lit from underneath. That way, all of the display sauces could sit up there, all glowing,” Noah says. “We also inscribed “eat hot sauce” on it, and there was a little flag stand coming out of it. After loading it up, that thing would weigh probably close to 1,000 pounds—if it was a great night and event, pushing it back home was a lot easier, and was a great feeling.”
After Noah’s first taste of “product distribution,” he had an appetite to try other sales channels. Now that the Heatonist hype was starting to spread, he realized it was time to upgrade his pushcart to “Add to Cart” by bringing his products online.
More sales, more space: Heatonist’s rapid-fire expansion
When Heatonist first launched its online store in 2014, six months into the business, incoming orders went from two to three per week to nearly 20 to 25 per day.
Fortunately, packing up orders in one sitting and getting them out the door on time was still manageable at this stage.
“When we had our first shop in Brooklyn, we had a table in the back that we'd all sit around. We set it up so that we could pack orders at one end of the table, towards the end of the day,” Noah says. “And then, eventually, we had so many orders, we set up a packing station in the basement stockroom and somebody would wait until the last few hours of the day and go down and pack them.”
But as sales continued to climb, packaging orders became a more time-consuming and space-consuming task.
“Eventually, somebody was down there all day. And then eventually there were two people down there, and we'd cleared off the kitchen island, and we were packing orders on there,” Noah says. “I remember when we got to the holiday period a few years ago, we just had all hands on deck. Our mailman came in one day and looked around the room—every square inch had a mailbag stuffed with packages! And we knew we needed a better solution in order to grow from here. So, we got our first warehouse space.”
Soon after, the Heatonist team moved to its first warehouse space. At a humble 950 square feet, the compact space was, at that time, a huge step up for the company. “For us, it felt like a luxury set up—it had a window!” But Noah kept dreaming even bigger.
“We said, one day we'll get a pallet delivery, and we'll put the pallet over there. Won't that be something?” Noah says. “Anyways, we got that bigger space, and I think about three months later, we were already taking another space in that same building because we had already run out of room. We had so many people and so much activity happening that we needed more!”
After a year and a half and a subsequent move to a second, larger warehouse, the time came to bring on a third-party logistics provider (3PL) to help out.
The search for a 3PL that believes in TLC
From the beginning, Noah wanted to ensure every detail of Heatonist’s branding—at every step of the customer journey—was being handled with the same level of care evident in other areas of the business. While a 3PL was sure to alleviate a part of the workload and free up some much-needed time, the team was hesitant about how it would influence the customer experience.
Even when a mounting workload forced the team to reconsider sending handwritten notes, they continued looking for new ways to create small, memorable moments with each shipment.
“Ever since we started selling online, we’ve always looked for ways to add a special touch. In the beginning, it was a handwritten note going into each order. But over time, the notes got shorter and, eventually, we didn’t have the time for them anymore—there were just too many orders,” Noah says. So, we made custom stamps for everyone who worked in the warehouse, and on each one it said, ‘Packed with love by Sammy,' for example. And it featured Sammy's handwriting, and he would stamp it on each packing slip. It was a way for us to keep that personal touch.”
In order to successfully scale Heatonist, the team's hands-on approach to fulfilling orders had to evolve.
Noah admits he initially found it stressful to hand over the reins of certain tasks, even packing orders. “The business is really about fun and excitement,” Noah says, which is a feeling that can quickly dissipate if a customer receives a late or carelessly packed shipment.
“If you're going to a website that only sells hot sauce, and you're spending the time to pick out these specific products, it's because you're really invested in the whole experience,” Noah says. “For a business like ours, fulfillment should ideally support all the energy the customer is bringing to this purchase, and not get in the way of their enjoyment.”
But in order to successfully scale the business, the hands-on approach had to evolve.
Finding a partner in Shopify Fulfillment Network
Heatonist first crossed paths with Shopify in 2017 when, two days before Black Friday, Noah and his team decided to migrate their online store to Shopify’s platform. It was a bold move, but one that ultimately paid off.
“A few of our customers wrote and said they immediately noticed the changes on our website,” Noah recalls. “Thankfully, it all went smoothly, and we've had a really great experience working with Shopify ever since.” Since then, Heatonist has also switched to Shopify POS to manage in-person sales and inventory for its two tasting rooms in NYC.
But when Shopify Fulfillment Network was announced last year, Noah admits his previous experience with third-party logistics providers had left a bad taste in his mouth—he was hesitant about the prospect of working with any fulfillment provider.
Still, he was ready to learn more. “After Shopify had made the announcement about Shopify Fulfillment Network, I thought it would at least be worth our time to have a conversation. After that call and the ones that followed, and seeing the good work Shopify had done with their ecommerce solution and POS system, we trusted they would make the Shopify Fulfillment Network a success too.”
It really came down to an important element for Noah: passion.
“We work with farmers to grow chilis for our hot sauce, and they're super passionate about growing chilis. And we work with other folks to make and bottle the sauce, and they’re very passionate about what they do too,” Noah says. “I think this attention to detail and drive to do even the small things really well is key. And so I thought, ‘we're never going to find someone who's passionate about packing boxes, to ship them out for somebody else.’ Because of that, I thought we might have to bring fulfillment back in-house, even though our time needed to go elsewhere.”
Noah says it was the Shopify team’s commitment to treating the small details with utmost importance that helped tip the scales in his decision to choose the Shopify Fulfillment Network. Since Heatonist was searching for a long-term fulfillment partner over a short-term solution, nothing less would do.
“Our team has worked so hard and put so much into this company; it really is our baby. And before you can trust your baby to someone, you have to do your due diligence and do your homework,” Noah says.
Unlocking the confidence (and time) to scale the business
With Shopify Fulfillment Network now taking care of the heavy lifting, Noah and the team were able to focus on other aspects of the business.
“Before, we were always holding the reins on growth because I didn't want us driving more sales if we didn't have complete confidence in our ability to deliver for customers,” Noah says. “Having confidence in our ability to fulfill orders allows us to say, ‘Okay, now how do we want to grow this company?’ Let's turn our attention to all the fun ways that we want to grow this thing, knowing that we have great partners who will make sure that all the demand we're driving will be met.”
"Fulfillment should ideally support all the energy the customer is bringing to their purchase, and not get in the way of their enjoyment.”
Much of that attention was spent on building strong(er) marketing campaigns and developing more content for Heatonist’s website. The sum of these efforts, Noah says, have brought the business to heights that were hard to imagine back when he was personally hauling cartfuls of hot sauce.
“Starting from a pushcart and getting to where we are now, as the most trafficked hot sauce website in the world, has been amazing. But what's been even more rewarding has been seeing all the wonderful small independent makers that we work with grow alongside us,” Noah says.
These “small indie makers” of all-natural hot sauce have reaped the benefits of Heatonist’s success, a result of the brand’s ability to focus its efforts on growth and big picture planning rather than back-office tasks.
“So as we've brought more customers into the fold, we've been able to help them scale up their production. And to see people going from hot sauce as a hobby... to now having their own production facilities, to employing full-time teams of people, has really been amazing,” Noah says. “We are seeing all these businesses develop in this ecosystem, with us.”