Comparing notes with your roommates the morning after you throw a party doesn't usually lead to a business plan, but that was exactly how Rob Benke Bowman and Matt Burns came up with the idea for Brooklyn Salsa.
Burns, a vegan chef, had made some salsa for the party that was very well received by their guests, and the roommates had what Bowman called "a spontaneous idea" to start a salsa company with five flavors keyed to the five boroughs of New York City. "We knew that Brooklyn would be the hottest," Bowman says, "and went from there."
In addition to Brooklyn (The Hot), the spiciest of their salsas, the line includes Manhattan (The Pure), which is milder; The Bronx (The Curry), with Indian spices; Staten Island (The Green), which includes tomatillos in addition to tomatoes; and Queens (The Tropical), made with pineapple and oranges as well as vegetables.
After developing the products, "we built the brand through non-profit fundraising and rock shows," says Bowman. He and Burns were living in a renovated opera house in Bushwick and already in the habit of producing shows in the building's basement. So they started making 200-300 jars of salsa each weekend, teaming up with a non-profit organization, putting on a benefit show with Bowman's band and two or three others, and selling the salsa at the show. "We sold out every single time," he adds.
While they started out producing their salsas semi-legally in a Brooklyn loft kitchen, Bowman and Burns have since moved production to the Hudson Valley in order to be closer to the farms where they buy the ingredients, Hepworth Farm in Milton, NY, in particular. "It'll always be [Amy Hepworth's] heirloom, organic tomatoes in Brooklyn Salsa," Bowman says.
Brooklyn Salsa's partnership with Hepworth is part of what Bowman calls an ongoing evolution of "our own standards in ingredient sourcing." Rather than seeking organic or Fair Trade certification—"We don't agree with what goes on behind the scenes there," he says—Bowman and Burns follow what they call "conscious methods," a way of crafting business practices that demonstrate "integrity every step of the way."
In addition to the five boroughs of salsa, Brooklyn Salsa has six rotating seasonal flavors, "like a beer company," Bowman says. Up next for spring is Toyko (The Sun), a carrot-ginger salsa inspired by the ubiquitous Japanese salad dressing. Keep an eye out for it in stores around June 1.
For a complete list of stockists, along with recipes and information about their ingredient sources, visit BkSalsa.com.
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