The Battle Behind a Family's Secret Sauce

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I had no choice but to try Bitchin' Sauce.

It was years ago, and Ryan Smith was at the farmer's market in Hillcrest. He was so enthusiastic and wildly upbeat about his "bitchin' dips, so I stopped to give them a try.

Yum. The sauces – which are sort of like hummus but made with ground-up almonds instead of garbanzo beans – are good. They're also vegan and fit other restrictive diets. And Smith had a whole charming farmers market schtick that sucked people in.

It didn't take long for Bitchin' Sauce to take off – both because of the flavor and Smith's knack for pitching the product. After making the rounds at local farmers markets, Smith and his sister Starr Edwards enlisted their family for help and started getting stores across the state to sell the product.

Bitchin' Sauce, based in Carlsbad, grew to about $2 million in annual revenue by 2015, Smith said. That's when the trouble hit. A small disagreement among the family morphed into an all-out legal battle that left Edwards with total control of the business. The rest of the family was left scrambling, wondering what to do next.

"Imagine going from a six-figure salary to nothing," Smith said. "Moving out of your house with your wife and baby, moving in with your brother and going, what are we going to do?"

In this week's episode of "I Made it in San Diego," VOSD's podcast about local businesses and the people behind them, I talked to Smith about how he picked himself back up and helped build a successful family business once again.

Edwards is now CEO of Bitchin' Foods. She declined to speak with me.

Rather than wage an all-out battle for the business, Smith and the rest of the family let it go.

A few months after the grueling split, they started building a new business called Good Lovin’ Foods, the cornerstone of which is a trio of healthy vegan sauces the family claims are better than the last.

Smith said the family is now making more than they were when they left Bitchin' Sauce behind. But the new business' growth hasn't come without challenges.

"It definitely was not easy," Smith said. "And it hasn't been without battles – like everything going wrong. ... It has been a battle, but we're growing."

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