Thursday, March 06, 2014

Fiesta by Blanca ... in demand

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
March 6, 2014

Blanca Cardoza making salsa (Photo by Erik Holladay)

Salsa has overtaken ketchup as the No. 1 condiment in the land. And Blanca Cardoza is finding the marketplace for her salsa, Fiesta by Blanca, is wide open. Zinta Aistars talks with the budding entrepreneur about the appeal of the spicy condiment that updates family recipes to reflect today's tastes.

It's a good problem to have: Blanca Cardoza is less than three months into her new business of selling salsas and is already looking for help to handle the volume. 

"I’m selling more than I thought I would, and faster," says Cardoza. "I’ve been doubling my business each week, and I’m reaching capacity."

Fiesta by Blanca, Cardoza’s cottage business of salsa made with fresh ingredients, launched in December 2013, with free tastings and demos at Natural Health Center at 4610 West Main in Kalamazoo.

"I was so nervous." Cardoza laughs. "I didn’t know what to expect, so I brought everything I had, but the response was so great. It was a good way to launch. Two times a year, the store features local foods, with little tables everywhere."

From there, Cardoza placed her salsas in nearly a dozen local stores, including People’s Food Co-op, Tiffany’s Wine and Spirit Shoppe, Beer and Skittles, Bert’s Bakery, Youz Guys Sausage Company, and Harding’s in Parchment, on Drake Road in Kalamazoo, and in Woodbridge. This spring, her salsas will be on the menu at Hangar, a restaurant at 4301 West Main in Kalamazoo. 

Cardoza’s story began five years ago, with Cardoza giving away her homemade salsas to her clients at All About You hair salon in Milwood, where she has been a hairstylist more than 10 years and continues to put in around 30 hours even now while marketing her product every day. Cardoza gave the salsa away as holiday gifts, but her clients kept asking for more, encouraging her to consider selling it. Eventually, she listened.

That’s Cardoza’s salsa story, but her own story began in Mission, Texas, where she was born in a Mexican family that loved its salsas and served them with every meal. She moved to Michigan at age 7 when her mother was accepted as a student at Western Michigan University, and the family’s salsas came with them.

"My childhood was spent living with extended family under one roof," says Cardoza. "My grandmother made salsas and sauces from recipes that were passed on through generations in our family. We put it on everything. It’s part of my nationality. I took her recipes and made them healthier. Some of my uncles died of diabetes, so if my grandmother fried jalapenos, I cut them in fresh. My salsas are also low-sodium and gluten-free. People can enjoy my salsas and still eat healthy."

It took a grant of $8,500 from Can-Do Kitchen, part of the Fair Food Matters non-profit organization that helps people start food businesses, to give Cardoza the funding needed to launch her business.

But after two years perfecting the salsa recipes in her home kitchen, Cardoza had her dream nearly go up in flames when ...


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