The reason why Mike Konefal is a wizard with hot sauce is because he was so bad at making beer.
The marketing sophomore at Northern Arizona University learned the hard way that his calling would not be making in beer while attempting to brew in his room in a rented house off campus.
"It blew up all over my entire room, so my buddy decided that as a Christmas present -- since I could not make beer initially -- that I should make a hot sauce," he said.
"So as a joke he bought me this kit."
Konefal wasn't going to let his friend get the better of him.
He used the three empty bottles and the recipes inside that tiny kit as the starting point of the Rising Hy hot sauce, mustard, pepper-infused olive oil and spice known as Devil Dust.
Today the sauces are available all over town -- Coppa Café, Cuvee 928, Peace Surplus, Seasoned Kitchen, Campus Coffee Bean, Brookside Chocolates, Vino Loco, The Village Baker, Albertsons, New Frontiers and Bashas' carry the Rising Hy brand.
They are also used as ingredients in various restaurants in town, although Konefal is guarded about some of the places in town that use the products as a mystery ingredient.
The young owner is open about one thing: None of his products uses vinegar.
"Vinegar is such an acidic flavor that it detracts from all of the flavor of foods you are eating it with. If you have ever had Tabasco, it kills the flavor of the food," he said.
Chefs seem to love his recipe, although it is the honey mustard that is in demand.
"The honey mustard is actually on the menu of six different restaurants -- Coppa Café, Cuvee 928, Scott's Pizza, The Lunch Box and Louie's Chicken Shack," he said.
But his sauce still hasn't cracked the hot wings market.
"No one is using it on their wings ... yet," he said.
The early years of Rising Hy were spent in the kitchen of Cuvee 928, but today, Konefal works out of a commercial kitchen he owns on Fourth Street. On Mondays and Wednesdays he makes his sauces and on Tuesdays and Thursdays he makes tortillas.
Konefal actually found himself buying the Tortilla Lady business from its second owner as he looked for a commercial kitchen in which to cook up his recipes.
The owner was preparing to shutter the business, but Konefal decided to step in and run the two businesses together, alternating between hot sauce and tortillas.
Sunnyside residents still stream in for the handmade, fresh tortillas, which account for 70 percent of his business. But more and more are leaving with his sauces.
"I hope some day it will be 50/50," he said.
All of his tortillas leave in a package featuring the face of the original owner, but it isn't his face that is on the hot sauce bottles.
The unofficial mascot of the brand -- a man wearing a large cowboy hat, his eyes glazed and steam coming out of his ears -- comes from a photograph of the same friend who bought him the starter kit.
The image was taken at 4 in the morning after a music festival.
"He loves it," Konefal said. "He has a T-shirt with his face on it ... he even has a hat."
Joe Ferguson can be reached at 556-2253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
2114 N. 4th St.
Monday - Thursday
10 a.m. to 3 p.m.