Building a Dynasty: Couple turn mom's "hot sauce" into the stuff of legends

In her growing-up days in Greenwich, Anya Block Mills can remember walking into her kitchen while her mother, Shiu-Min Block, was making her signature "hot sauce" and "not being able to breathe," she says. "The moment my mother added chili peppers, it took the oxygen out of the air."

Anya also remembers the parade of friends over the years coming for dinner with empty glass jars to take home some of that "hot sauce." "My mom is the only person who knows how to make this," she says, "and they were addicted. It tastes unlike anything in the world."

Shiu-Min Block had brought her cooking skills from her native China to her marriage to David Block, now a retired rare book dealer. "My mother is the most inventive cook," says Anya, "She's never followed a recipe as long as I've lived."

And so it was that John Mills, Anya's husband-to-be came to the Block dinner table and he, too, fell for Anya's mother's "hot sauce." His first impulse, Anya says was "to get the secret out of my mom."

John is a foodie and loved the crunchiness, the hot spiciness, the garlic tinge. He came with a brand advertising background and was stimulated by that crunchiness and its Chinese origin. The movie, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," slipped into his mind and up came a new name for Shiu-Min Block's "hot sauce" -- Crunch Dynasty. "It has the allure of Chinese culture," says Anya.

But what exactly is Crunch Dynasty? Well, one thing it is not is a spice. It is actually an "exotic blend of garlic, shallots, soy sauce, sesame seeds, hot peppers and special seasonings and oils" that has a texture somewhere between wheat germ and granola -- and it is spicy hot.

With both Mills in the advertising and marketing business -- the couple now live in Richmond, Va. with their two young children -- they knew they had a promising product before them with an enticing name. But they needed something more to market their product. They needed a legend.

"We wanted to make my mom larger than life in the legend," says Anya.

And so "The Legend of Crunch Dynasty:" was born.

"Thousands of years ago in the Chinese province of Harbin, an evil sorcerer cast a spell on local villagers, stealing their taste buds to gain the most powerful senses in the universe," the story begins.

The legend includes a hero named Shu and a fire-breathing tiger that kills the sorcerer and releases the villager's captive senses, while also scorching and "magically" fusing together great delicacies on the sorcerer's table resulting in the Crunch Dynasty creation. And the descendant Min [as in Shiu-Min] is the last remaining person "alive today who still knows the recipe."

The legend is now printed on an artfully designed package of Crunch Dynasty that has an arresting image of a young Chinese woman [Shui-Min Block] that came as a surprise to her mother, says Anya. "We chose it as it has the feel of the era of the People's Republic of China." (In the legend there's a People's Republic of Flavor.)

So, now the Mills are in the food business and they launched their product, aptly, at the start of the Chinese New Year.

They make their Crunch Dynasty in their home's small kitchen (which is FDA approved) in Richmond and sell it through their website,

"We produce it in batches," says Anya, "with each package numbered and packed by hand. We seal them and store them and ship them on demand."

As for marketing, the Mills are taking the social media path.

"My husband has expertise with social media," says Anya. "He knows food bloggers and design bloggers. We've been marketing it through the social network, through Facebook."

Some customers who have tried Crunch Dynasty are suggesting various uses for the product on the Mills' Facebook page-- things that Anya never dreamed of.

"I've got friends who say it's great on avocados, on crabmeat, on mac-and-cheese. I now put it on popcorn -- and in chicken soup!"

"People," she adds, "just put it on everything!"




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