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Friday, October 25, 2013

MOVERS and SHAKERS: Dave Hirschkop, Founder, Owner and Spicemeister at Dave's Gourmet Our Coverage Sponsored by Umberto's Clam House

Dave Hirschkop

In 1970, 35-year-old Umberto Ianniello strolled around New York City's Little Italy and realized there were only a couple of seafood restaurants in the entire neighborhood. Named after the last Prince of Italy, Umberto kept the idea to himself until he spoke to his parents about his idea of opening a restaurant! His parents encouraged Umberto to realize his dream, and in 1972, Umberto Ianniello opened his first restaurant, Umberto's Clam House on Mulberry Street in New York City. With an unpretentious atmosphere, and an enduring concern for freshness, Umberto worked tirelessly to achieve unprecedented quality and uniqueness at his restaurant, distinguished then by their open kitchen (which became part of Umberto's alluring ambiance and has been remodeled today.) Umberto's Clam House became an overnight success! In 2005, Mr. Ianniello passed his legacy to his son Robert Ianniello Jr. who has been working hard to reinvent the famous eatery. Their new menu features the legendary Hot, Medium, and Sweet sauce which is simmered to perfection for hours just as it was in 1972 and their Linguine with White Clam Sauce has earned high accolades from Whom You Know. Umberto's also offers many new exciting dishes such as: Short Rib Ragu Over Penne, Spiedini a la Romano and more. Tourists, Locals, Actors, Professional Athletes, Politicians, Musicians and Celebrities all flock to Umberto's including acting legends Robert DeNiro and Michael Douglas to David Chase, creator of the hit TV series The Sopranos to the late James Gandolfini and Edie Falco, stars of the The Sopranos. The Sopranos featured Umberto's Clam House numerous times and often filmed special segments at the restaurant. Tony Soprano is known for repeating this famous line throughout the series... "Let's hit Umberto's for some scungilli and calamari." Umberto's is located at 132 Mulberry Street between Grand and Hester in the heart of Little Italy.

Pepper-enhanced Dave Hirschkop

Dave Hirschkop grew up in Virginia. In high school, he won seven varsity letters, was president of his senior class, was chairman of his county’s student government, was a national merit scholar semi-finalist, began his own non-profit company, was an intern for Senator Gary Hart and threw great parties. Dave went to Boston University where he hoped to acquire the skills of a covert operations specialist. During college he became a Soviet and Eastern European Studies major, bicycled across the U.S. for charity, ran the Boston Marathon, became treasurer of the Greek system, worked at a number of jobs (security guard, bouncer, waiter, bartender, telemarketer), and spent a semester abroad in London interning for Quaker Oats. During this period he applied for a covert operations internship with the Central Intelligence Agency and was selected as a finalist. 

After graduating, Dave had changed his goals to become an entrepreneur. To learn about business he offered to work for free for a small business-consulting firm and, if he did well, then they would pay him. He did get paid, but quit in less than a year. At this point Dave decided to start his own business raising money for small companies. In less than a year Dave was deep in debt due to a client who was a con man and had been described by televisions 20/20 as “the meanest man in America”, so he dissolved his business and went to work for his father’s law firm. Ironically, one of the projects that he worked on was trying to enforce a judgment against a con man.

After a year, Dave’s debts were largely paid and he raised $35,000 to open a restaurant. The restaurant, Burrito Madness, featured offbeat burritos (what would currently be a wrap). Burrito Madness seemed to have a number of drunk customers late at night. Since Dave noticed that enough hot sauce would get rid of these patrons, Dave went on a mission to create the world’s hottest sauce. The result was Insanity Sauce, which he bottled and took to The National Fiery Foods Show in Albuquerque where it became the only product ever banned from the show (although the sauce and Dave’s straight jacket were a hit). Dave sold Burrito Madness and moved to California. Since that day almost nine years ago: Burrito Madness was sold, Dave set up Dave’s Gourmet, Inc., and fifty other products have been added to Dave’s Gourmet’s offerings. Eight years later Dave’s Gourmet has about fifty products and numerous awards. Dave’s has been in almost every major newspaper in the U.S. and on the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, MTV and more. His products are sold in all fifty states and several foreign countries. 

Dave’s Gourmet’s products are distributed throughout the U.S. and in several foreign countries. The excellent quality of their items has garnered the company dozens of awards. The fun offbeat look of their packaging combined with Dave’s oddball marketing (Dave wears a straight jacket to trade shows; here we had the pleasure of meeting Dave and Mittens his pet scorpion) has gotten Dave’s mention in nearly every major newspaper in the U.S. and on television shows such as Good Morning America, the Today Show, CNN, MTV, The Food Network and more.

Dave’s products emphasize humorous or upbeat packaging, specialty ingredients and unique flavors. These products include over a dozen hot sauces, a handful of salsas, several snack items, heirloom tomato pasta sauces, cooking sauces, pickled vegetables and several cool gift packs. These items are produced in both retail and bulk sizes under the Insanity, Dave’s Gourmet and Jump Up & Kiss Me, brand names. In addition to producing items under its own labels, Dave’s Gourmet creates formulations and produces for a number of other companies. 

Dave’s Gourmet’s customers include gourmet stores, gift shops, grocery stores, catalogs, restaurants, department stores and mail order consumers. In 1997 Dave married the lovely Paige Rosenberg. They have three children and live just north of San Francisco. Dave finished his first cookbook, Crazy From the Heat, in 2002 and is a sometimes writer for Chile Pepper Magazine. In 2004 Dave competed in his first triathlon, Escape from Alcatraz.  We are so pleased to present Dave Hirschkop as our latest Mover and Shaker.  Peachy Deegan interviewed Dave for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: What were your varsity letters in, what positions did you play, and do you continue to participate in these sports? 
Dave Hirschkop: I was on varsity track in high school all four years running both the quarter and half mile. In college a hamstring problem prevented me from continuing, but I did get the chance to run the Boston Marathon, ride my bicycle across the U.S. for Charity and swim from Alcatraz. Nowadays I have become a tennis fanatic.

We believe some of the strongest business leaders were athletes for many reasons-what did sports teach you about business? 
 Competing in sports taught me several lessons. First, many competitions are won or lost before they start. Preparation and practice are critical. Second, you need to manage your emotions so you push at the right time and in the correct way. Third, the right strategy and tactics can be the difference between winning and losing. Finally, I learned that talent does count for a lot, but it is only part of the story.

What is Boston University's secret to success in the Beanpot, and how do you like the pizza at T. Anthony's?
 I can’t tell you the secret because it is a secret (from me), but I really did enjoying watching the Terrier hockey team and the incredible energy in the arena. As for T. Anthony’s I wish I had a statistic as to how many hundreds of pounds of their pizza I ate over four years.

What did your Quaker Oats internship in London teach you? 
 Quaker Oats was great. Primarily I learned Lotus 123 and got to see how a big manufacturing plant runs. It was interesting to see how analytical the marketing was. I also enjoyed a few of the famous long pub lunches.

What did you love about London? 
 London combines amazing history and tradition with a great big city energy. It also had really good Indian food and the whole Pub experience was terrific.

What should everyone know about Dave's Gourmet? 
 Dave’s Gourmet’s purpose is to create innovative specialty foods that bring joy to everyone. They heated up the hot sauce world by creating the first superhot sauces and then they took on the pasta sauce arena with award winning differentiated offerings like Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce and Masala Marinara.

What future plans do you have for Dave's Gourmet? 
 Dave’s Gourmet will look for more food categories where they can innovate and make a difference for consumers.

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence? 
My Dad is amazing. He has always tried and succeeded at making a difference in the world. He has done this by working harder, having high standards and thinking creatively. He went to the supreme court and wiped out mixed marriage laws in the U.S.

What are you proudest of and why? 
I am really proud of all my four children. This includes both my three human children and Dave’s Gourmet, my fourth child. My three kids are amazing at how they tackle new challenges and find their different ways through the world. Dave’s Gourmet is my willful child that took a long time to raise, but now makes so many people happy in its own small way.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do? 
 I would like to spend more time speaking, would like to start a technology company and would like to have a television show at some point.

What honors and awards have you received in your profession? 
 We have won 16 Sofi awards from the Specialty Foods Association including two times being named the best pasta sauce in the industry. We have won five gold medals at the World Mustard Championships. We have won dozens of other awards beyond that.

What one word best describes you and why? 
Dichotomy would best describe me. I am full of contradictions. On one hand I am driven and ambitious and really want to make a difference. On the other hand I am laid back and love to hang out with my wife and kids, watch movies, play tennis and enjoy the bay area.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan? 
 I don’t know that it is my favorite place, but I have spent so much time at Javits Center that it feels like a home away from home. 

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan? 
 FAO Schwartz because I grew up visiting it and I have great memories from it.

If you could hire anybody who would it be and why? 
 Warren Buffet seems like the ideal person to hire, if you could afford him. Almost everything he touches turns to gold. He seems down to earth and very decent.

What is your favorite drink?
 I am not a big drinker, but always liked margaritas. Really my weakness is diet coke. It is terrible for you and I am trying to quit, but it is addictive.

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party? 
 I went to a party. A woman came up to me and said “there are two women at this party that think you are cute. Do you want to meet them?” I said yes. One woman was not my type. The other is my wife.

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan? 
 Now that is an impossible decision. New York is amazing in that it has so many fantastic restaurants in so many types of cuisines and at so many different price points. There are endless new places to try.

What is your favorite Manhattan book or favorite character in Manhattan literature? 
I must admit that my wife and I really used to enjoy Sex in the City. It was fun and had really interesting characters.

Who would you like to be for a day and why? 
Being the President for a day would be fascinating. You would have access to information, insights and people that almost nobody else has. To have that experience for only a day would be enlightening. Much longer than that would be way too stressful.

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why?
 It would be some sort of really popular restaurant where many people go and really have a fantastic time.

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience? 
 I really enjoy jogging through Manhattan because you quickly pass by so many interesting buildings and people. You can feel the incredible energy of the city, but running gives you a sense of calm that makes you feel more like a spectator than a participant.

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else? 
 This happens in some other places, but coming from California it is always cold at night. I love being out at night in New York in the summer. Sitting at a sidewalk table, eating great food and people watching is fun.

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why?
 Either JFK or Thomas Jefferson would be fascinating to speak with and hear the inside scoop and their perspective on the world. I think that I might be a little bit of a political junkie.

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience? 
 Broadway is so much fun. You can see classics or new productions and you know that you are seeing the best.

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world?
 Aside from bicycling across the country for charity and donating lots of money to charity I am most proud of the years that I spent in Big Brothers Big Sisters. Being a “big” was a big responsibility, but it was very rewarding. Watching my “little” grow and develop was great.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here?
Overrated would be Times Square and Underrated would be how fit all the people are from walking.

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it? 
I like Peachy’s Picks. It is a foodie column and I am a foodie. Just don’t read it on an empty stomach.

Have you tried The Peachy Deegan yet and if not, why not? 
Not yet, but it is now on my list.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you? 
 They should keep an eye on Dave’s Gourmet because we intend to be launching great products that people will love for a long time.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?

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