Veronica Shaw, better known as Chef Pii or “Pink Sauce Lady,” didn’t anticipate becoming the internet’s main character in June. When she began promoting a naturally pink homemade dipping sauce, social media ate it up.
“When I woke up and seen the commentary, I kind of just ignored it. People were inquisitive,” Shaw says to ESSENCE about first going viral.
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After multiple trending videos, a round of improperly packaged orders, and an investigation launched by the Food and Drug Administration, Shaw has inked a licensing deal with Dave’s Gourmet, a company that specializes in sauce.
“I already was fond of the brand,” Shaw says. “So when they reached out to me, I was happy. It was kind of like somebody understands my pain..[S]omeone who owns a business, I feel like would understand that there is trial and error in a business. I also understand that I am a chef. However, manufacturing foods to become shelf stable is another industry.”
David Neuman, the president of Dave’s Gourmet, says the company stays on top of trends, especially as it pertains to sauce. They caught wind of Shaw’s culinary creation, but noticed that although she had the world’s eyeballs, she also had a slew of detractors. “Her [TikTok] following was both impressive in size but also saddening in the viciousness of many of their comments. We reached out to her via a DM and she quickly replied,” Neuman says. “After a number of business discussions with her and her legal representatives, we made a mutually beneficial deal.”
Shaw will receive royalties for all sales, will continue to leverage her vast audience and will remain the face of the brand. Pending the updated formula’s approval, Dave’s Gourmet hopes to have Pink Sauce available online, in stores, and restaurants by Christmas 2022.
“The sauce is extremely unique. The flavor of the sauce is extremely unique. And I just think it drove people’s curiosity because I wasn’t able to explain the taste. It’s sweet, tangy, a little spicy.” -Veronica Shaw, The Pink Sauce Lady
Shaw began cooking at the age of 8. She was heavily inspired by her grandmother and great-grandmother, both of whom raised her after her mother’s passing when she was one month old. She also spent time in the kitchens of her Latin, Caribbean and European friends’, picking up their habits and tastes. When she later entered nursing school, her loved ones questioned why cooking professionally wasn’t on the table for Shaw. By 2018, she was swayed.
“One of my friends, he hires private chefs often,” she says, her face nearly dominated by glamorous, yellow shades. Her hair is, of course, hot pink. “So I reached out to him. I was like, ‘Hey, give me the opportunity to be a private chef for you all one night.’ It went well. Basically, I started my career through word of mouth.”
Word of mouth is also how her sauce began to take off. Previously, Shaw had used the sauce for private dining experiences and venues. In the video that launched her fame, she was publicly sharing the sauce for one of the first times while heading to a pop up shop. She didn’t know the video would become the hot topic.
“Initially I had about 12,000 followers on Instagram before I went viral on TikTok. So solely I was prepared to provide sauce to the community of people that knew me. I just woke up to millions of views.”
As her fame grew, consumers’ primary concerns became the color of the sauce (some packages were pastel, while others were a more loud pink), the nutritional facts claiming each bottle contained 444 servings, with one serving being a tablespoon, and the bottles being shipped in poly wrapped bags. The color and serving issue were easily explained; people complained the color was too bright so she tinted it and the serving was a typo. The shipping problems got her undivided attention.
“The biggest mistake I would say that I made was the shipping, which led people to feel like it was unsafe,” she says. “However, it was a mistake. Businesses go through mistakes and trial and error every single day. My business did not have the opportunity to go through that growth span because everyone was watching.” Until production paused for retooling, Pink Sauce was shipped in boxes.
Shaw also thinks by complaining with videos, as opposed to reaching out directly, people were trying to capitalize on her buzz.
“Then of course, if this sauce is viral, instead of reaching out to customer service like any other customer would do, why not go to the internet so I can get a million views and become famous as well?”
In a June 25 video, Shaw shared the ingredients behind her special sauce: honey, garlic, sunflower seed oil, chili and dragon fruit for the bright color. She says she the sweet and spicy nature of Asian sauces, as well as the Caribbean and South America, influenced her. The bright pink color is what captivated viewers, even before they knew what the sauce tasted like.
“What it taste like?,” one TikTok user commented. “[Because] I’ll buy it just [because] it’s pink.”
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Digital society is always on the hunt for the next big thing. A cultural obsession that can, for at least a few days, guide us through the sheer insanity that is life. Whether it’s a moment, a person or an idea (please, no more $200 date discourse), the public is eager for anything to hyperfixate on. Food is a good entry point, especially now.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with schedules bare and more time at home, Americans became preoccupied with baking their own bread. Then, home fermentation became so widespread that there was a shortage of mason jars. And who could forget when random items moonlighting as cake became so common that Netflix turned the craze into a show? Now, it’s Pink Sauce’s turn to monopolize our timelines and dining experiences.
“You’re going to see Pink Sauce all over,” Shaw says with a grin.