Feb 10, 2018
30 Under 30, Class of ’18: Nate Cotanch, Founder of Zia Green Chile Company
Most Likely to: Start my own venture capital firm
Favorite Quote: “It’s great to be here. It’s great to be anywhere.” – Keith Richards
Nate Cotanch grew up with New Mexican roots, where Hatch Chile was a staple in local cuisine. Entrepreneurial in nature, Nate noticed a hole in the New York food market: it was missing Hatch Chile, and thus, Zia Green Chile Company was born. Nate sees Hatch Chile as more than just a food; for him and many others, it’s a sentiment of home. Even as Zia gets picked up by top media outlets like the New York Times, LA Times, and Rachael Ray, Nate finds it most rewarding when customers come to him, “with tears in their eyes,” knowing they are able to access the rare crop reminiscent of their homes yet again.
What is your earliest memory associated with what you do now?
My mother is one of 17 from right north of Santa Fe, so New Mexico and it’s chile have honestly been a part of my life since as long as I can remember. During the harvest months (August – Mid October), my mom would spend entire weekends roasting bushels of Hatch Chile on our oven broiler. It would make the whole house smell of the smoke-kissed, flame-roasted Hatch flavor, and smelling it today evokes all these memories of my childhood, family, and the unique landscape / scenery of New Mexico, which makes what I do that much more special. It’s truly is part of my soul.
When did your occupation become real to you?
I always knew I was going to start a company, but I just didn’t know what. I moved to NYC after college and landed with a couple off Craigslist (now two of my best friends) who had just started Bombay Sandwich Company at Smorgasburg. I wanted to get as deep rooted in the city as possible, so I hustled 7 days a week—in venture capital during the week, helping them at Smorgasburg on the weekends, and in doing so I became completely fascinated by the market.
A couple years into living in NYC I was sitting on my back porch with one of my aunts, and she asked why I hadn’t started my own venture yet, as I had the perfect background to do so. I realized that all the pieces were completely set in place to do so, and I made a commitment to myself right then and there to give it a shot. I started the company, unearthed a community of fellow Southwesterners who had been in my position of growing up with Hatch Chile and missing it, and opened up a number of opportunities to create a brand around it—share it with new markets, and make it available in a high quality, authentic way ultimately nationwide.
How does Brooklyn/your neighborhood particularly inform your work?
Brooklyn has been critical to my own personal growth, as well as the foundation for Zia Chile. It has served as the sole incubatory. It gave me the original inspiration while working at Smorgasburg on the waterfront of Williamsburg and Old Tobacco Warehouse of Dumbo that led to my own stand, which led to a full blown company. I’ve spent just about every weekend I’ve lived in NYC at these markets, and today it gives my company an incredible place to interface with the community on a regular basis.
What do you feel is most challenging about being where you are now?
The most challenging aspect of where we are now is the growth we’re seeing and managing that correctly. We’ve secured deals with national distributors, large retail/restaurant chains, and leading chefs. We’ve been covered in national press outlets (we were just named by Rachael Ray Every Day as one of the best new groceries hitting shelves) and are on the verge of opening up several new geographic markets all over the nation throughout the next few months/year.
This requires an incredible amount of discipline, sacrifice, and lack of work-life balance, which can be really hard sometimes. That being said, the challenge fuels my daily life and I can’t imagine doing anything else.
What’s most rewarding?
When I sit back and look at what we’ve accomplished, it’s pretty mind blowing. We’ve been covered in The New York Times, The LA Times, Forbes, Rachael Ray. These are really all just a means to an end. What’s really most rewarding is the difference my company has been able to make in others lives, and to a state and crop that have been so important to how I was raised and who I have become.
The countless number of people who have come up to us with tears in their eyes to finally have access to these chiles again. The chefs who have been thrilled to be able to utilize this rare crop in their dishes. The fact that we’ve been working with the New Mexico Tourism Department and seen as an asset to have the ability to help tell the story of what New Mexico has to offer. It’s incredibly fulfilling, and keeps me fighting day after day.
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What’s your most significant accomplishment to date?
My most significant accomplishment to date has probably been my move and integration into Brooklyn. I took a huge risk moving here right after college. I came with the financials to survive for about a month—a suitcase, a couple job prospects, a background of living in the mountains/desert rather than an urban metropolis, and my own ambitions.
Somehow I was able to make it work, and without being able to do so I would never have started my company, made the friendships I have which are so important to me, or have any of the opportunities which currently lie ahead.
Who/what inspires you?
I could talk forever about the people who inspire me—my parents and family; the growers who work under the hot sun that give my company a reason to be in business; everybody I meet with aspirations / ambitions that are working hard toward and have incredible stories to tell. These people are the salt of the earth.
I also read a lot of biographies of musicians (Bruce Springsteen!), historical figures, and philosophies on concepts such as Buddhism and Stoicism. These all inspire me as well.
Thinking about the future, where do you see yourself in the next 30 years?
This is a hard question, as I don’t live in the future but instead take my goals one day at a time… In 30 years I hope to have other creations in my portfolio (currently working on a Norah Jones cover band), still surrounded by the family and friends who I love, great physical and mental health; and the resources (knowledge or financial) to be able to help other aspiring entrepreneurs, who are sacrificing everything to get over the challenges I currently have been going through since I went full time on my company over two-and-a-half years ago.
What’s next for you?
Launching our products in nationwide distribution and increasing our availability to consumers and chefs. Working with more innovative and exciting chefs, and continuing to spread the awareness and education of Hatch Chile/the incredible state of New Mexico.
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