Corey and Sara Meyer are nothing short of culinary geniuses. At Little Bird Kitchen, they create Fire Syrup: a simple syrup that's also a hot sauce. Apply it to anything you'd ordinarily apply hot sauce to, and it kicks it up a whole new, crazy level. Add it to anything you'd add a touch of sweet to—your coffee or even ice cream, for example—and you've got a symbiotic symphony of sweet-and-spicy flavor in your mouth. The experience is transformative.
We got a chance to chat with them and discovered that Corey and Sara themselves are just as sweet and fiery as their syrup. We talked about some of the other products Little Bird Kitchen puts out—candied jalapeños, for one—how they set off on their journey, and where they're headed next.
Where did you (each) grow up?
Corey: I grew on in Massapequa, NY, which is on Long Island.
Sara: I was born in Detroit and moved to Indianapolis as a small child.
What did you want to be when you were kids?
C: I wanted to be Ron Guidry—pitcher for the NY Yankees.
S: At one point I wanted to be an actress—but I kept laughing at myself onstage!
Who taught you to cook? And, if the answer is different: how did your interest in food and cooking ignite?
C: I learned to cook by myself, out of necessity, when I went away for college. Lots of hamburger helper, mac and cheese, and soup. I didn’t feel a real love for cooking or baking until I married Sara.
S: We were just talking about this with my dad this Thanksgiving! We were discussing how my mom tends to, uh, substitute ingredients in recipes. We also talked about how my siblings and I are all really talented in the kitchen (one of my sisters is a professional chef), and whether we gained our skills because our mom, or in spite of her.
What were you doing before Little Bird? Did you have any idea you’d make the shift into the food business?
C: While I always loved baking, my career prior to Little Bird Kitchen was completely unrelated. I hold degrees in elementary education and liberal arts, and I have paralegal and EMT-B certifications. I held various finance, sales, customers service and management positions before I became a New York City EMT for three years.
S: I was the first woman to graduate with a Masters in Sound Design from Purdue University. I moved to New York City and worked at the TV station NY1 for 15 years. While I was there, I started a personal food blog, testing and posting recipes.
Your labels and branding are fantastic—eye-catching, honest, and to-the-point. Who came up with that, or how did it develop?
S: Our labels and branding have significantly changed since day one! We knew from the start what we would be named, and I just knew our color scheme. I designed the earliest of our logos and packaging. They were a great first step—but we realized we needed help designing our next level of packaging, so we brought in a team of designers that escalated our packaging and then our brand, too. BrandFire is an amazeballs design team in NYC. Amazing.
Corey & Sara's famous Fire Syrup
Had you ever come across candied jalapeños before you started making them? What gave you the idea?
S: With twins at home and working full-time, I wasn’t left with much time to myself. I was working as a sound technician at a TV station in New York City and was desperate to have something of my own. Armed with a diverse palate (my favorite sandwich is a roasted green bean sandwich), I started a food blog and began experimenting with recipes. After figuring out how to make Corey’s favorite, chocolate covered orange peels, I began candying everything I could find. Corey joked we had to keep the kids out of the kitchen! The leftover jalapeños in the refrigerator were calling my name. My husband told me I was nuts and it was a terrible idea, and like any great wife, I ignored him and candied away.
When I brought the candied jalapeños to work the next day, much to my surprise, co-workers began asking if they could purchase them. I rushed home and told Corey, “I think we have a business.”
How has the process been of honing recipes? Who are your go-to taste-testers?
S: Well, I work really closely with one of our team members, a woman named Linda. She’s our R&D guru. One of us will have an idea, and then we’ll put our heads together and brainstorm. Then she cooks up a whirlwind in the kitchen, and we try things together. It’s very much a series of taste-tests before we present the finished flavors to the rest of the team. Every one of us gets a say in what we make. People tolerate heat differently—some prefer different spice combinations—so we ask everyone their opinion on products before we take them to the public.
After we create a product that we think is it (or at least close to it), we package some up and take them to a local craft fair or market and see what the responses are. We love hearing what people think, but really, money talks. If people buy something, we know it’s a keeper in the lineup!
What’s your favorite way to use your fire powder and your fire syrup?
S: Well, the first thing we ever made with our Fire Syrup is a margarita. Followed closely by Corey’s fried chicken wings. We have a friend who uses the syrup as a marinade on his salmon when he smokes it—and my mom LOVES it on her pizza!
C: Fire Powder sprinkled over popcorn is fun. I love the Fire Syrup on chicken and waffles, drizzled over ice cream, or to make candied bacon.
Any new products you’re thinking of developing down the line?
We definitely have a few things in the works. We’re constantly testing new recipes and treats at trade shows and fairs!
What’s something that’s surprised you about running this business? What’s been your favorite part? What’s been challenging?
C: I grew up with parents who were teachers. Owning my own business is completely foreign to me. Sara’s father had his own business, and her mom was a big part of it, so she grew up with it. We learn new things every day. That’s a favorite part and a challenge.
I really love being with the public. Whether we’re at a local retail show or a national trade show, seeing people's expressions when they try our products for the first time is a thrill.
S: Surprising…well, let’s see here. The hours: it’s pretty much 24/7. Favorite part is definitely coming up with new products, followed closely by realizing that I can learn new things if I want it bad enough.
Challenging? Challenges change every single day. Today’s challenges: sourcing appropriate ingredients, chasing down installation engineers in two different countries, learning how to ask the right questions regarding packaging and metalized film, understanding how to pay import duties, and how to rent a forklift.
What’s your favorite local restaurant, café, or market?
C: We just moved to Merrick, NY, so we’re trying some new local places. Danny’s Chinese and Anchor Down Bar & Grill in Merrick are both great! I also just found an incredible bakery in West Hempstead called Sydney’s Sweets.
S: We just moved so we are still settling into our new neighborhood. So far we like La Piazza and Danny’s Chinese a lot.
Do you listen to music or podcasts while you cook? If so, what/which?
C: Sara turned me onto podcasts last year. I love How I Built This with Guy Raz, Here’s The Thing with Alec Baldwin and Critical Role. Otherwise, ’90s alternative is my choice of music.
S: I constantly listen to the radio, podcasts, or the TV. I love Fresh Air on NPR, The Bobby Bones Show on iHeartRadio, and the Property Brothers.
What are your favorite cookbooks?
C: My first cookbook was Sugar Rush. I learned a lot and developed my love for baking. Since then, I’ve collected tons of cookbooks. I love baking. I’m precise with measurements and follow the recipes to the letter. When she cooks, Sara looks in the pantry and finds things that she thinks will work together. You can’t do that with baking. That’s why I bake and she cooks.
S: I have a couple go-tos: Flour + Water (the best pasta and flavor book I’ve ever read), Smitten Kitchen’s first Cookbook, Extra Virgin, The Skinnytaste Cookbook, America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook—so many good recipes our family loves come from this one! The one my mom sent me off to college with: Where’s Mom Now That I Need Her?—super basic, easy to read, traditional American comfort classics. And my most recent addition to this shelf: A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches. Great flavor combos; tongue-in-cheek humor.
What are your favorite non-cookbook books or authors?
C: I’m on a suspense kick right now. Harlan Coben and Vince Flynn are two of my current favorites. I like Stephen King and Cormac McCarthy as well.
S: We’re both into Harlan Coben books, and I’m into the sci-fi/fantasy genre. I really like Isobelle Carmody and C.E. Murphy right now. And, of course, J.K. Rowling! ’m reading the Harry Potter series to the kids—we’re halfway through book 4.
What’s your favorite comfort meal to make?
C: I’m the breakfast short-order cook at home. Scrambled eggs, french toast, omelets, and pancakes.
S: Our go-to dinner is Pasta Crunchy Beans. You open and rinse off a couple cans of chickpeas, pour them onto a foil-lined sheet pan, and toss them with olive oil. Roast them at 425F for 20-30 minutes, shaking the pan every 10 minutes or so to make sure the beans turn over and get crunchy on the other side. Serve these on top of or next to whatever pasta you feel like cooking. Shave fresh parmesan or romano on top.
What’s your go-to dinner party meal to make?
S: Roasted vegetables are a staple. My standard meal is Martha Stewart’s roast chicken with chickpeas, cauliflower, red onion, and grape tomatoes. Easy, delicious, and pretty, too!
What’s your favorite drink of the moment?
C: Founders Breakfast Stout, Apothic Red Wine, Jameson, and Knob Creek Smoked Maple Whiskey are some right now.
S: Well, I have a cold right now—does cough syrup count? Corey & I both really like vodka martinis, dark beers, wine wine wine, and Knob Creek’s Smoked Maple whiskey. I really like Amaretto, too—Lazzaroni if you can find it!
Now for some quick-fire questions—answer before you have a chance to think too long about them. Dog or cat?
C: Grew up with cats but became a dog person.
S: DOG. Cats = aaaaaah-choo.
Tomato sauce or pesto?
C: Tomato. Gotta have lots of garlic. I really love just garlic and oil when the garlic is sliced thin (like by Paul Sorvino in Goodfellas) made crunchy.
S: I like both.
Regular fries or waffle fries?
C: Regular. Well done.
S: Um, you said fries, right? NO. DIFFERENCE. Fries are one of my favorite things to eat.
Chocolate or caramel?
C: Chocolate, but caramel covered in chocolate is awesome.
S: Not a decision. The answer is BOTH.
Pizza or pasta?
Wine, beer, or cocktail?
C: Make it a double.
S: Yes, please!