by Vivi Rathbon
They wouldn’t tell me what Ya Ya Bean means.
But they did tell me a little more than the straight-forward story that you’ve read on the back of La Boca Roja hot sauce bottle.
Hola we are Ya Ya Bean: hot sauce guys, musicians, and above all best friends. While abroad in Buenos Aires we became frustrated with the lack of spice, so after graduating we moved back to do something about it. After living and learning on an organic farm in Patagonia we returned to BA and La Boca Roja was born!
It’s kind of like the sauce: happy, spicy, and made with love.
Mark Sandusky and Kevin Dean were best friends since sophomore year of high school. Their first joint endeavor was to start a band, which they called “Ya Ya Bean”.
Inspired by an old friend they decided to study abroad in Buenos Aires during college. As many of us do, they fell in love with the city and vowed to return upon graduation.
They didn’t just come back, they returned with a plan and a solution to the expat’s dissatisfaction with Argentine cuisine. Armed with their guitars and a hot and spicy start-up idea they spent their first month WWOOF-ing at a small organic farm in El Bolson, Patagonia. They met a farmer who specialized in making her own jams, and she agreed to help them develop a recipe for hot sauce – an exotic rarity for this country. They experimented until they developed a recipe they were satisfied with; one that was spicy, but wouldn’t make you cry, full of flavor and lip tingling goodness to greatly enhance the spice-less food of Argentina. They learned the intricacies of bottling and came to Buenos Aires ready to produce their signature sauce – La Boca Roja.
Upon returning to BA they were faced with a new set of challenges like where to source ingredients and where to prepare their sauce, and how to sell it to ostensibly stubborn Argentine hot-sauce novices. They’ve had plenty of adventures along the way.
Once when working on their new labels, they asked an Argentine for grammatical advice. “Is it correct to say ‘para accompanar las empanadas?’ The Argentine looked at them, puzzled, “You don’t put sauce on empanadas!”
They learned just how killer their sauce really could be when it almost killed someone. One unsuspecting Argentine woman sampled La Boca Roja at their San Telmo booth and almost went into cardiac arrest. Upon tasting the sauce she turned bright red, was unable to speak or breath and looked like she was going to blow up. They almost called an ambulance. Fortunately she lived to buy another bottle.
As they come upon their first year anniversary in Argentina, La Boca Roja is taking off. Ya Ya Bean’s loyal customer base of expats and Argies is expanding along with their production. Rumor has it that another hot sauce is in the works…..
When they aren’t cooking up hot sauce, Ya Ya Bean works on their music and film video updates. They have documented their adventures for all of their fans – from their time on the farm, to their two weeks of homelessness.
So here is what I really wanted to know:
5 Question for Kevin and Mark- whose powers unite to form Ya Ya Bean
5. Why did you choose to start a business in Buenos Aires and not in the United States?
We wanted to move back to Argentina after graduation but needed a way to make money. We didn’t just want to find jobs, we wanted to start a business. Buenos Aires has a good market for that, and hot sauce was a good niche. It seemed like a much more appealing option than getting an office job back home.
4. What advice would you offer to others who are interested in starting a business in BA?
Just do it. The environment here is not regulated, there aren’t the typical, standard processes to deal with. The expat community in Buenos Aires is super entrepreneurial; many friends here have their own business. People here do their own thing, have their own ideas, and we’ve experienced lots of support and mentorship from the expat community, support that perhaps would not be paralleled in the US.
3. What is it like starting a business in Buenos Aires?
It has been extremely awesome and fun and equally annoying at times. Things can be less efficient here and it seems to take much more time to get things accomplished. The relaxed vibe that we enjoy personally has been a challenge to deal with professionally. We’ve carried over our American work ethics of being persistent and demanding. Persistence is key to starting a business. Many Argentines that we deal with have taken chances on us and mentor us. They often seem shocked by our young ages.
2. How did you acquire your booth in the Sunday Defensa Street Fair?
We love the Street Fair, it is our favorite place. When we were studying abroad we only experienced the tourist’s perspective of the fair; trying to become a part of it was a completely different experience. It was really hard to break into the fair. Every stand is reserved, you can’t just show up and set up shop. It took us five months of making friends with the right people, and getting the run around by the proprietor before we could sell there. Many times we showed up ready to sell and they sent us home. Sometimes we were offered the spots of absent vendors. Finally one of the other vendors returned to Peru and after getting the consensus of all the vendors on the block, we were offered the stand. Now we are friends with the other vendors and feel like part of the community. We have stayed with them in their homes, shared meals with them and become good friends.
1. And what does Ya Ya Bean mean?
…It’s a secret.
But you can’t blame a girl for asking. Go meet Mark and Kevin on Sundays at Defensa 250, or get La Boca Roja delivered to your home by ordering online here.
(2) Readers Comments
March 02, 2017
March 02, 2017
February 21, 2017
February 05, 2017
Thank you, Scott.
I have been living in Santiago for about one year and I can confirm th
This was an enjoyable read. I could easily picture the venue and und
Thank you so much, Melanie. I appreciate your kind words about my stor
What a touching story! Being an English teacher as well as a music ent