When Jason Higgins moved to Phoenix a year ago, opening a restaurant wasn't part of the plan. He says he never wanted people to know he could cook.
Sitting at a table at his brand-new restaurant, Jupiter Rings Wings and More, Higgins tells his story.
A transplant from Kentucky, Higgins started his career as a sous chef in Lexington after finishing his culinary arts degree at Sullivan University. But he was a single father at the time, and the late nights and early mornings weren't conducive to raising a child. He started working at a warehouse and moved up the ranks to become a project manager; he also worked side jobs to supplement his income. After years of toiling away for little money, he decided to start his own business.
Higgins' eureka moment came to him while hiking Lookout Mountain in Colorado. He used to invite family and friends over for game days and cook wings, nachos, and other finger foods. His wings — and particularly the buffalo sauce he used on them — were the most popular with his friends and family. He realized he might have something to market.
“I made one bottle of my sauce and dropped it off for the buyer at a nearby co-op store,” says Higgins.
The next day, he received an email from the buyer wanting to know who did his distribution. He told her she was looking at him.
She gave him two days to prepare an order of five cases. Higgins delivered.
Encouraged, he began offering samples around the city. Most restaurants and stores turned him away. In the end, aside from the co-op, only a butcher shop and a farm store would carry the sauce.
As he continued building his business, his mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. At his wife’s request, they moved to Phoenix, where he had to rebuild the business from scratch.
He tried his hand at farmers’ markets without much success. Through driving for DoorDash, he sold his sauce to a few restaurants: Spinelli’s in Tempe and ChiZona’s in Scottsdale. But the revenue from those sources would go back into the business.
One day at the gym, Higgins noticed an announcement that Power Nutrition would be doing a demo. He asked the manager if he could demo his buffalo sauce, too.
So began his entry into the world of wellness. He ended up making a vegan version of his sauce for the Power Nutrition manager, whose diet wouldn't allow her to try the regular sauce.
“As a people pleaser, I wanted to make her happy," he recalls. "Being from Kentucky, I didn’t even know there were people who ate just plant-based food. So I started to experiment with organic products."
The manager loved it. And so did the non-vegans who sampled it.
So Higgins leaned in. He credits his youngest son, not yet born at the time, as further motivation. He did his marketing while waiting for his then-pregnant wife to receive iron infusions. While he sat with her, he reached out to as many vegan grocers as he could.
When Chad Miller, the owner of one of the largest vegan chains, Food Fight! Grocers, contacted him to purchase his product, Higgins warned him to prepare to get busy.
The birth of his son coincided with an inbox flooded with orders. VegNews did a giveaway and recommended his sauce, stating, “This brand nails the flavor and spice level every time.” Higgins’ business took off. Come July, a number of Sprouts stores nationwide will be carrying what has now been dubbed Jupiter Rings Buffalo Sauce.
Despite the rush of business, Higgins is so far keeping the business in the family. It’s only Higgins and his older son, Rashaad, who was also the inspiration for the business’ name. Growing up, Rashaad loved studying the solar system, and Jupiter Rings is a combination of their initials.
And then there's Jupiter Rings Wings and More restaurant, which opened on May 15. (Higgins had previously been serving his wings at Fuego Bistro until the owner, Jeff Ward, helped him find his own location.)
Now that the restaurant is open, Higgins is thinking about delegating the sauce's bottling and packing to the local Cactus Candy Company.
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For now, customers can order the sauce online, or buy it at the restaurant — where Higgins also offers plant-based food with his vegan sauce. He says he also has plans to offer the sauce in a variety of flavors, like whiskey.
But customers need not worry about too many endeavors affecting the main draw.
“I’m from Kentucky," Higgins says. "I know how to make wings.”
Jupiter Rings Wings And More
4700 North 12th Street
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday