Spice Up Your Life — How Two Creatives Built an Authentic Sauce Brand With Yellowbird
A Decade of Spicy Success
“The naivete of our twenty-something logic was adorable,” recalls Erin Link, one-half of the Yellowbird founding team. “In the end, it would be what ultimately helped launch this whole adventure.”
George Milton and Link met at a piano bar in Houston in 2011. Milton was playing music while working on his album. Link was an in-house designer at a recycling company that was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Waste Management.
Their creative minds complemented and inspired one another. In 2012, they decided to build a venture together in Austin, a place that fosters entrepreneurship.
Yellowbird Is Hatched
Yellowbird originated from a curious phase of life, when the couple became captivated by an uncommon association: spicy peppers and birds.
Milton and Link learned about a species of small yellow birds in Thailand. These birds eat bird peppers, a variety of peppers that flavors their skin to protect them from predators.
“Yellowbird is more a story of curiosity than anything else,” Link says. “Curiosity for a plant that humans should avoid — but we don’t.”
Like the yellow birds, they, too, felt galvanized when they flavored their food with pepper-based sauces.
“If birds are responsible for propagating this seemingly inedible plant for their own continued nourishment,” asks Link, “Then can I also feel just as alive when I eat it?”
And the namesake brand was born.
Creations With Curiosity
The duo wanted to make something flavorful yet healthy, funky yet elevated (kind of like them).
Their curiosity led them to use spicy peppers — jalapeños, habaneros and serranos — to create sauces in a variety of textures and heat levels. Every sauce is crafted to enhance a variety of dishes and be savored across different regions and cultures.
Their current line-up of sauces holds true to that mission and boasts a huge variety of flavor profiles.
The base for the sauces is fruits and vegetables, sweetened with agave sugar, cane sugar or organic dates. What you’ll never find in Yellowbird sauces is high-fructose corn syrup, GMOs or harmful additives.
They’re also gluten-free and vegan, so you can spice up your food and feel good about adding flavor and quality.
Ten Spicy Years
Yellowbird recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary. Local support fueled the duo’s decade-long success, thanks to those who believed in them from the beginning.
The now-shuttered Gourmands Neighborhood Pub was the first restaurant to carry their sauces. Customers from Wheatsville Co-op and Whip In were also original Yellowbird adopters.
“Those first moments of getting the thing we made truly validated will stay with us the rest of our lives,” says Milton.
And then things really started heating up.
In 2014, a buyer from Whole Foods Market offered them a chance. In 2017, TV producer Brian Koppelman featured Yellowbird in “Billions” for its beloved habanero flavor, showcasing his love for the sauce.
The brand continued to grow throughout the years — but that came with hard times and persistence.
“I found that my years hustling as a musician had actually perfectly trained me for the unpaid, non-stop hustle of starting a business,” says Milton.
“I had so much to learn about managing a business and being a leader,” Milton continues, “But being a musician absolutely got me ready for those early, lean years.”
It was four years into the business when Milton and Link were able to start paying themselves.
Hustling for the Hot Sauce
“The truth is that building a food brand is hard work,” says Link. “The greatest highlight of all has been the opportunity to build an excellent team and an excellent place to work.”
“When it comes to building something bigger than yourself, you can’t do it alone,” Link continues. “Finding the right people has been the greatest and most rewarding challenge.”
Link’s ability to build the company was greatly supported by her education and experience in art and design, especially the visual branding and packaging.
“Each of us put our whole self into this project with the intent to give the world something better than what already existed — a better total experience,” Link says.
“Each of these elements aligned the way they were intended, due in no short part to our experience and taste.”
The brand is now used in restaurants and sold in retailers nationwide, including Whole Foods, Walmart, Kroger and Costco.
Yellowbird launched a fresh look for its mascot and hot sauce packaging, which is hard to miss on shelves. But don’t worry, the recipes are still the ones you know and love (with more coming!).
“We’re always tooling around in the kitchen working on crazy new sauces,” says Link. “We look forward to sharing only the very best ones with our fans.”
Two creatives joined forces to craft a flavorful, authentic brand. Yellowbird adds a touch of goodness to your culinary adventures with ease.