A couple weeks ago I sat down with the team behind the popular local brand Sarah’s Salsa. On the back deck of a Latham Park home, the “girls,” Sarah Beth Ward, Susie Kennedy and Katherine Meadows, made their salsa by hand in bright matching yellow aprons, jeans and black t-shirts. They shared their company’s story between bird watching and salsa making.
A couple months ago, they moved their company’s production from Gateway in Greensboro to Duke’s Sandwich Company’s production facilities in Greenville, South Carolina. In all the hubbub they have not had the time to make salsa together. They miss the camaraderie and the spicy flavors of their favorite condiment. While finishing the simple recipe (which they know by heart), Ward pronounces “Girls, we still have it!”
Since 2005, the “girls” of Sarah’s Salsa, have been working diligently to create the “Salsa of the South.” Started in Ward’s home kitchen, the brand is now on the shelves of all Fresh Market stores in the United States.
Sarah’s Salsa is an unprocessed and all natural recipe. It has a 30 day shelf life using natural lime juice to keep it fresh. The recipe is simple using classic fresh ingredients –tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lime juice, vinegar and onions chopped daily,. Each batch is stirred by hand keeping the recipe true to its home kitchen roots.
The company, like many start-ups, started with a desire for a fresher, healthier and tastier product. Ward, a trained speech pathologist, started making salsa during her pregnancy. She craved stronger flavors that processed store-bought salsa’s didn’t deliver. She developed her own recipe and years later, while adopting her second daughter from China, started the business with an interested in a more relaxed lifestyle.
Along the way she recruited two friends from her church to join the effort -Meadows and Kennedy. They made their first sale in the spring of 2005 at the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market. It was serendipitous that a product specialist from The Fresh Market discovered the product.
They grew their operations from a home kitchen to the Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship to a six year stretch at Gateway – from two local Fresh Market stores to 60. In the meantime they have developed seven varieties including Chunky, Hot Chunky, Mango, Black Bean Chipotle and Avocado Salsa Verde. Blended mild is their most popular and their Salsa Verde is growing in popularity.
This June, Sarah’s Salsa moved their production operation to Greenville, South Carolina. This move allowed Sarah’s Salsa expand their outreach to all Fresh Market Stores and prepares them for any new opportunities and bigger orders.
Through the changing economy their business plan has remained simple – stay out of debt, add customers and deliver a healthy product. They’ve gotten a great deal of assistance from the community including the local universities, the NC Department of Agriculture and the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce Food Producers Council providing invaluable information about food processing, packaging, delivery, business expansion and marketing.
Their relationship with The Fresh Market remains to be the key to their success. They say that because the strength is built on trust and the expertise of the corporation. “They aren’t frightened by a product with a short shelf life, they know how to properly transport the product, can make ready time orders, pay attention to detail and they are in their own backyard,” says Ward.
The girls like the feeling of keeping things as close as their backyards, except the interloping birds trying to steal the salsa! Ward chops an onion, shares a story, and jokingly shouts “I’d throw a rotten tomato at that one!”
The “girls” recommend using the salsa for cooking – a great base for soups and on top of grilled proteins. Here is one of their favorite recipes.
Sarah’s Salsa Foil Packet Dinner
10 mins prep, 20 to 30 mins. cooking, Serves 4
· 1 bag baby spinach
· 4 cups cooked rice (optional)
· 4 salmon filets
· 1 container Sarah’s Salsa (Original, Original Hot, or Chunky)
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees or grill to medium high (can even use on a campfire)
2) Spread 4 sheets of foil on counter (heavy duty foil for campfire).
3) Layer in middle of the foil:
· ¼ of spinach
· 1 cup cooked rice
· Filet of salmon
· ¼ cup Sarah’s Salsa on top
4) Close up foil into neat packet, closing tightly to contain juices.
5) Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, or until your preference.