Paula Horne is an Army veteran and founder of River City Flame Sauces & Rubs, based in Richmond, VA. Dunlap Law is proud to celebrate and serve small businesses and entrepreneurs like Paula with trademark services through our Bill Ten, Give One program.
What inspired you to create your delicious River City Flame hot sauce?
During my career with the Army, I was stationed at the American Consulate in Hong Kong. If you’ve ever been there, you know it’s possible to eat at a different restaurant every day of the year. My favorite was a little Thai restaurant that always had this amazing condiment on the table. I’d eat there two to three times a week and whenever someone visited me, that’s where we’d go. When it came time for me to leave Hong Kong for my next assignment, the chef gave me the recipe. It had 9-10 ingredients; some I couldn’t even pronounce! He knew I wouldn’t be able to find them all in the states, so he did his best to describe them to me.
After I retired, I decided to grow a few peppers and see what I could do with the recipe. I visited all the Asian markets around Richmond and everyone was so helpful. If they didn’t have what I was looking for, they’d suggest a substitute. After many years of trial and error, and using the substitutions recommended, I came up with my own recipe that tasted like the sauce I fell in love with back in Hong Kong. I was just planning to give it away to friends then in 2015, a friend suggested I try selling it. So, I applied for an LLC and started my business in 2016.
Can you tell us about the challenge you faced with your trademark?
I submitted a trademark for my original company name, Chilli Richmond, and it cleared preliminary review and was approved. However, during the discovery phase when anyone has the opportunity to oppose the decision, I received a letter from a well-known national chain telling me my company name and chili icon were a copyright infringement. I was distraught and lost sleep over it, wondering what this meant for my business.
I’d spent so much money on my label and my marketing. I loved my logo. It seemed like the end of the world. I knew I needed a lawyer and called the first one I could find. He advised me to defend my trademark, which would have cost me thousands of dollars. Talking to him, I felt like it was my fault that this happened. I felt pretty powerless to do anything.
But you didn’t give up! What happened next?
I reached out through UnboundRVA, which is where I met Tricia Dunlap. She has been invaluable. First of all, Tricia was very sympathetic and said she had dealt with trademark issues in the past. And she actually asked me what I wanted to do. Until then, I didn’t realize I had options! Tricia thought I might have a case, but I’d resigned myself to move on. So, she helped me officially withdraw my trademark and drafted a letter back to the law firm that had sent me the cease and desist.
Now I’m re-branding to River City Flame. It’s a little bit of a setback, but I’m determined to keep moving forward. I’m just taking my time and pursuing my goal of marketing my products through regional gourmet stores and eventually online (e-commerce).
What advice would you have for other business owners when it comes to trademarking?
Do your research and involve a good business lawyer earlier in the process. The first lawyer I called had trademark qualifications, but I realize now he wasn’t a good fit for my business. You need to find someone that you can really work with who cares about your business strategy, not just your legal issues. I think it’s important to get referrals and interview your lawyer before you make a decision. Business lawyers are not all the same. I learned that the hard way.
What are you most proud to have achieved as a business owner?
I’m really proud that I’ve bootstrapped my business. I’ve never taken out a loan and have been very frugal. Even though I’ve experienced challenges, I’m not in debt. That gives me the freedom to make my own decisions and see where my business goes.
We’re getting hungry. Tell us where to find River City Flame sauce and rubs!
My sweet, tangy & firey Hot Sauce is a delicious mix of honey, banana sauce, habanero, and jalapeno flavors. It’s thick, almost like a salsa, so it really has bite. And, you’re going to need a spoon. It’s great on its own but also adds a new dimension to your favorite recipes. For the holidays, I add the sauce to my cranberry cocktail meatballs, and it’s also a great way to kick up your queso. The rubs are Celtic seas salt and Cherrywood smoked sea salt infused with jalapeno and habanero peppers.
We’re in stores in Richmond, Charlottesville, and the Northern Neck. Visit our website for locations, or call (804) 223-8318. We can’t wait to share it with you.
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