I’m Shannon Armishaw, a visual artist, arts worker, writer, designer, sight-seeker, treasure hunter, and all-around perpetual creative. I am also the co-founder of Smoke & Tears Hot Sauce Co. This company is a decade-long passion project-turned pandemic pivot that launched in April 2021 to feed friends from afar. I’ve always had an endless roster of goals, plans, and dreams. Launching a digitally-native, direct-to-consumer hot sauce company with no background in business and zero budget (in the midst of a pandemic) was not one of them! And yet, this creative collaboration with my partner, Chef Kevin Rickey, is a culmination of all our passions and skills. Our business is driven by our sense of purpose, resulting in the creation of something that rocks people’s worlds and makes mealtimes epically delicious. It is profoundly fulfilling for us both.
Very few moments during this entrepreneurial journey have felt comfortable. As you might imagine, two people starting an all-consuming business in a one-bedroom apartment during the 2021 “Winter on Lock” in Toronto in the midst of the pandemic was full of challenges and sacrifices. There was lots of smoke. Lots of tears. And SO MANY hot peppers. I’ve learned a lifetime of lessons in a few short months. Mostly the hard way! I’m going to share some of the gems with you in hope of turning that spark within you into a flame!
Fan your flame
Creating has been my greatest passion from the moment I was able to pick up a crayon. I’ve always made art and wanted nothing more than to be an artist. It is the spark that lights me up, yet I spent years putting jobs, school, and other obligations ahead of the thing that is most essential to my happiness. When the pandemic hit I realized that, for the first time, there was nothing to hold me back. It was now or never. I was rusty. I learned that it doesn’t matter how much time has passed. If you are looking to reconnect with your creative passions, they are still within you. Spend some time going through the motion, and you’ll find yourself back in the flow in no time.
I spent a lot of time contemplating this Japanese philosophy. When I came up with the concept of Smoke & Tears, I realized it checked all the boxes. As soon as we started crafting our first batch of sauces, something shifted. The rest is history.
Be honest with yourself
I moved to Toronto a decade ago to pursue a creative life. I was quickly offered a job so unique and exciting, I couldn’t refuse. I spent six years travelling the world, immersed in art and beauty, dazzled by the excitement of the world I got to be a part of. I had no time (or energy) for creating art, and my spark grew dim. I wasn’t happy. Something had to change. It’s scary to change careers. Leaving the comfort of a life that is safe and predictable to start your own company or try something new is downright terrifying. If you know you’re in the wrong place or position, be brave, bet on yourself, trust your gut. I would rather take bold chances and dare to dream than spend this brief and beautiful life wondering what would have happened if I had followed my heart.
Staying curious and open to the world is vital to my creative process. New experiences, flavours, people, places, and conversations allow me to see the world with fresh eyes and awakened senses. This feeling fuels my desire to never stop learning. A year ago, I was finishing a master’s in museum studies and knew nothing about creating, launching, and growing a company (and the thousands of little things that it entails!). I consumed all the knowledge I could get my hands on. We’ve been building this plane as we fly it from the beginning. I’ve never felt more capable that I can master whatever I set my mind to.
Take care of yourself and each other
We started Smoke & Tears to share delicious flavours with the people we love when they needed it the most without realizing how isolating and lonely the entrepreneurial journey can be. It’s never been easier to fall off the grid and disconnect from the world. We need to make it a priority to stay connected with our loved ones, our communities, and ourselves. Nothing matters more than the love we share with each other.