Jae Lee and Jason Rom spend their days as software engineers, but in their downtime, they have two passions: jiu-jitsu and making and selling hot sauces and chili oils.
The pair run Tapped Sauces out of their homes in Satellite Beach. The name comes from jiu-jitsu, where the goal is to get your opponent to submit or tap out.
“We wanted people to get tapped out,” Lee said. “Not on the spice, but on the flavor.”
The jiu-jitsu team also comes into the naming of the individual sauces.
“So we got bow and arrow, which is a kind of choke, d’arce is a kind of choke, kimura is an arm lock, armbar is another arm lock, too,” Rom said.
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The pair met at Accent Technologies, the software company where they work in Melbourne.
“One day, (Rom) wanted to go to the gym, and he was gonna go with someone else and his buddy at the time canceled,” Lee said. “So I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll take you,’ because I loved working out and he ended up going with me. Then we started hanging out a lot and we hung out a couple of times before, but like when you go to the gym with someone, you really get to know them.”
The pair started hanging out more often, having cookouts after sessions at the gym. Lee had already been making hot sauces for some time on his own, and started sharing them with Rom.
“We made this dish called mapo tofu which is a Chinese Sichuan dish — it’s like tofu with some protein and it requires Sichuan pepper oil,” Lee said. “So I was like, ‘Jason, can you like pick that up from the Asian grocery store?’ Because you can’t really find that at Publix? So he’s like, ‘No, I’m gonna make it.’
“COVID got me to cook,” Rom said. “I was wanting to try different things and one of the things that I wanted to try was chili oil.”
The experiment was a success, but the duo decided to refine the product. After sharing it with friends and seeing their reactions, the pair decided to take their project and turn it into a business.
“It’s nothing like (our friends have) tried before,” Rom said. “So that convinced me to actually join a business with (Lee.)”
Currently, Rom and Lee have two hot sauces and two chili oils in their line-up, all of which can be found in their online shop.
“This was something that we could do and design and have fun with it,” Lee said.
“For me, I just fell in love with the process of like, starting my own business,” Rom said.
The pair are hoping to grow Tapped further.
“We’re trying to figure out different paths in order to grow this thing because we want this to be like a household Asian item,” Lee said.
“We want to turn this more into like a lifestyle or like a food brand, almost, expanding to different kinds of products — like energy drinks or healthy snacks, things like that.” Rom said.
On the latest episode of Florida Foodie, Rom and Lee talk about what goes into making their chili oils and sauces. They also talk more about their love of jiu-jitsu and what their families think about their sauces.
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Florida Foodie is a biweekly podcast from WKMG and Graham Media that takes a closer look at what we eat, how we eat it and the impact that has on us here in Florida and for everyone, everywhere. Find new episodes on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you download your favorite podcasts.