Story by Alexandria Lindstrom | Photography by Target Rocket
It takes a special mindset and determination to successfully launch a business. It takes focus on the task at hand, a vision for the future, and a plan to enact. It also takes logic – knowing when to pivot and change the strategy, when to bring in more help, when to hunker down and wait for the perfect opportunity, and when to push ahead no matter what.
In examining how Crum’s Sauce owner and founder Christopher Crum got his start and seeing where the company is now, it’s clear he possesses all those skills. The line of hot sauces claims table space in myriad area restaurants and in the spice cabinets of their many chili-head fans. And with good reason, because rather than sticking to one fiery, tear-inducing recipe, Crum’s offers a variety of sauces with flavor profiles ranging from slightly sweet and smoky to major heat balanced by a hint of fruitiness. It’s obvious he knows his peppers and that he’s worked hard to perfect the products. His business partners also share his vision and support the company’s forward motion; without brothers Doug Clift and Russell Clift as his cofounders, Crum might never have gotten the brand off the ground.
That same mindset also served him well during his 10 years in the Army from 1994 until his honorable discharge in 2004. As a Special Forces Engineer Sergeant in the 10th Special Forces Group, he spent plenty of time in the thick of action, serving two tours in Kosovo between 1999 and 2001 as well as two in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. After his separation from the Army in 2004, he went on to take a contract job with Triple Canopy, which took him back to Iraq in 2005.
Through it all, Crum maintained a sense of home by keeping container gardens, having gotten his green thumb from his mother. What he grew in those container gardens, however, took an interesting turn in 2000 when he unexpectedly found himself biting into a serrano pepper he’d accidentally picked up from the grocery store while shopping for green beans. It was a happy accident, one might say, as it led him on a path that he might otherwise not have ventured down. He went on to grow his first batch of peppers in Fort Carson, Colorado, then another in Kosovo, and then in D.C. Crum has continued to grow what eventually became the secret to his entrepreneurial success, which now gives him the means to support an organization whose mission is invaluable to those it serves – the Green Beret Foundation (GBF).
His time in the Special Forces best culminated his interests and experience, giving him the drive to support his brethren. GBF serves these men and women – known as the “quiet professionals” who make up the Green Beret – and their families in times of need. Whether someone has experienced an injury, death, or is transitioning into civilian life, GBF provides physical and emotional support and needed resources.
Knowing the importance of that mission, it’s no wonder Crum’s donates 5 percent of their annual profits to GBF. “I’ve lost friends to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and cannot comprehend the pain and loss their families have endured,” said Crum. “The Green Beret Foundation takes care of the needs of families in a variety of ways, so we’re proud to be able to give them financial support to help further their work.” In addition, Crum’s also sponsors the Green Beret Classic golf tournament at the Army Navy Country Club in Fairfax.
“We are grateful to Crum’s Sauce, a Special Forces veteran-owned small business, to have donated over $500 in support of the Green Beret Foundation and its mission,” said Frances Arias, GBF’s Director of Operations. In addition to financial donations, Crum’s has also generously poured on the sauces. “The in-kind donations by Crum’s have been gifted to our D.C. Green Beret Classic golfers and also sent in GBF casualty support backpacks to wounded Green Berets healing and recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Chris’ products serve as an added touch from a fellow Green Beret to remind them of the Special Forces brotherhood they are a part of,” Arias added.
From the adventurous life of a Green Beret to a pepper-head with his own line of sauces, Crum has proven that with a mission set before him, he gets the job done. And now with every bottle of his hot sauce sold, he’s proving he’s still got his comrades’ backs.