I first tried Jojo’s Sriracha a year or two ago at a New York City local food event. I already loved the standard issue sriracha, in the squeeze bottle with the rooster logo, but Jojo’s surprised me with its clean, fresh heat, much less sweet than Huy Fong’s version.
Founder Jolene “Jojo” Collins and I had a pleasant conversation, I bought some hot sauce and we traded business cards.
Flash foward to this fall when I got a mass email that looked like marketing but read more like a friendly catch up. I liked her sauce so I clicked through to the new website she mentioned. Her company’s name is Love Hard Inc., which intrigued me enough to read her most recent blog post, titled “The business of loving hard” to find out about that unusual name.
Instead I found a long blog post about pain and loss, mistakes and transformational changes Jojo had made and the scary leap she took to pursue the love of her life — which didn’t lead to a simple happily ever after, but instead the messy, complicated truth of real relationships.
It gave me chills. Few people are brave enough to own their honest story in the way Jojo did, even fewer would put it on their business website. I asked for her permission to share her story of finding happiness through trial and error and eventually getting brave enough to listen to her heart.
I’m grateful she and Rachel both said yes so I can share with you this story of loving hard.
In June of 2014, I packed my belongings into a moving pod and hopped on a plane from New York City to Denver. I had been living in the basement of my Grandma’s house for one of the most turbulent years of my life. I had been in therapy for months until I mustered the courage to tell my then wife that I had been having affairs for the entirety of our relationship. And that wasn’t even why I was in therapy
I was in therapy because my mom died from ALS when I was 15. That’s a pretty traumatizing thing for a 15 year old to go through and my three siblings and I never got help for it. What I got instead were a handful of coping mechanisms that pretty much tainted any close relationship in my life. I crossed boundaries with most all of my friends. I cheated on my girlfriends. I couldn’t get enough love and I got really good at deceiving people to get it.
To know the story of Jojo’s Sriracha is to know the story of Jojo, so here goes…
Five and a half years ago I took refined sugar out of my diet. That’s why I started making my own sriracha in the first place. The following month I enrolled in a yoga teacher training that started with a four week ayurvedic cleanse. This was one of the transformative moments in my life. It wasn’t just that I changed my diet. I changed the way I lived. I decided to let go of the person that I had been so that I could grow. I wanted to be different. I wanted to be better. The whole “cleanse” thing became metaphorical pretty quickly.
There were 11 other people in my yoga training, all looking to make similar changes in their lives. We spent 3 months practically living in the yoga studio together, away from our mates and other friends. We opened our hearts, we practiced yoga, we wrote poems, we shared stories. We cried a lot. And two of us fell in love.
Her name was Rachel. She was a five-foot-seven, silver-haired fox. I flirted with her, even though I had a live-in girlfriend whom I was getting ready to move to NYC with and even though Rachel was married for over 20 years with two kids. She was my cup of tea: older, smart, tender, sweet, but also strong and confident.
I could write novels about the cosmic love between us. Maybe one day I will. But for now I’ll tell you that that was the beginning of a four year long-distance love affair. I moved to NYC with my girlfriend. Rachel stayed in Denver with her family. We text every day but kept our affair secret.
As love affairs go, things got messy. We tried to break things off but never quite could. I started my business and even got married. I tried to create a totally normal life on top of a totally dysfunctional one. And it wasn’t until I finally confessed to Rachel that I had been having another affair that she realized how far deeply I was gone and how far deeply I had pulled her along. She told me to get therapy and I knew in that moment that I truly needed help.
I did my research and managed to find an incredible therapist. On our first appointment, I told her everything. I must have have talked for 40 of our 45 minutes together. I told her all the things I never told anyone. I had been carrying this dark, heavy weight around for most of my life – but that day I decided it was time I let it go.
I went to therapy every week for a year and then every two weeks for six months until I moved. That’s when I shook my life up and poured it out. It was way more like deep cleaning than starting over. It was messy and hard and in the process I hurt a lot of people. Some of them forgave me, some of them didn’t. For others, the process is still one day at a time.
I ended up in my hometown of San Clemente, California on my 30th birthday – a birthday that felt special for reasons I didn’t even know. I was visiting my best friend whom I’ve known since I was 10 years old. I spent my actual birthday mostly alone. I drove down from San Diego to Camp Pendleton where I grew up while my dad was in the military. I walked on the beach of my childhood, thinking about the times I had been there with my mom. I couldn’t resist swimming in the water, even thought it was November and freezing cold.
Rachel and I hadn’t spoken in months. Things had gotten so messy and painful and I had refused to talk with her about it. She was still married and I was trying to move on. But on that day at the beach, the last of the weight I had been carrying around finally came off. I had done so much work to get to where I was, but I still was not fully listening to my heart.
I knew in my heart that I was still in love with Rachel. I knew that I would never stop looking for her in my new relationships. I knew that I would miss the way she smells. I knew that it would never be fair to be with someone else when I was still thinking about her.
As the universe would have it, I was supposed to fly back to NY the next day with a 4-hour layover in Denver. So I decided to do the crazy thing you do when you’re in love. I text her to meet me at the airport. Hesitantly, she met up with me and I put all my cards on the table. I told her I was still in love with her. I told her I would move to Denver or do anything I had to so we could be together.
She was in shock. And it took her several months of navigating through the heartache I had put her through to decide that she did in fact want to be with me. Eventually she told her husband and together they told their kids. Two months later I was on a plane to Denver and Rachel and I threw our lives together.
* * *
Making Jojo’s Sriracha had never been a full-time gig for me and although it has grown quite a bit, it has yet to pay me a dime. In the 16 months since I moved back to Denver, 10 of those were spent building out a commercial kitchen to produce Jojo’s in. Rachel was working 60-80 hours a week for a design company to support both of us. Once the kitchen was built out and production got going again, I thought I was going to feel happy but instead I felt totally alone.
In the years that Jojo’s had gone from me making sriracha in my apartment to a company that was written up in the New York Times, Rachel had been a constant presence in the business. We designed the packaging together and I went to her constantly for help and advice. She was the business partner I always wanted but could never have. And now with her working constantly to keep us afloat, I missed her constantly.
We had always fantasized about running the company that we called “the empire” together – but in our real, three-dimensional life, that felt like a pipe dream. Instead, we were both just stressed, out of sync with ourselves and with each other. We had talked such a great game about creating this beautiful life together but in actuality it was pretty far from anything we had ever envisioned.
I suppose it was only a matter of time until one of us snapped and since she was often working on 3 or 4 hours of sleep, it was sure to be her. We met at a park one day after Rachel had met with her bosses. “I can’t do this anymore,” she said. This whole time she had putting up with an insane work schedule so she could financially support us both. “I always thought… and I don’t mean this begrudgingly,” she said, “that I had to be the one to support us.” We just sort of looked at each other, realizing that it wasn’t smart or fair for things to feel that way. “We’re both smart and willing to work hard,” I said, “Let’s work together.”
We started brainstorming – one of the things we do best when we’re connected. We talked about all the ways we could work together and support ourselves. We talked about eating better, drinking less and going to yoga regularly again. We talked about what a great team we could be running “the empire.”
* * *
It has taken several months for Rachel to unwind from her job and slowly get connected into Jojo’s. In the meantime we started eating better, drinking less and going to yoga more regularly. Also, Rachel sleeps now. We have this little phrase we share between the two of us called, “The Whole Fucking Point.” Like, we threw all our cards on the table to be together and make an awesome go of it. Isn’t that The Whole Fucking Point? We have this great company and these beautiful products – there’s no reason why this can’t work.
So here we are friends – about to set out on one of the biggest journey’s we, and certainly Jojo’s, has ever experienced. We’re excited, we’re nervous, but we refuse to be scared. I don’t consider myself a religious person, but I certainly have faith in some things, and this is one of them. I know that whatever happens, it’s going to be awesome and I’m never going to regret jumping “all in” with the person I love, respect and adore more than anything.
We hope you’ll join us on this wild ride. After all, it’s The Whole Fucking Point…
jojo (& rach)