From serving breakfast tacos in a subway station in Austin, Texas to now opening their own store all the way in Brooklyn, Jalapa Jar continues to ascend the road of local success. Back in 2015, three friends had a great salsa recipe that at the beginning was only for friends and family gatherings. One worked in Wall Street, the other was in the food industry, and the other was involved in several Marketing and Business Development rolls. The three wanted to pursue something different and start their own business but weren’t exactly sure what. After many thought processes and friends’ encouragements, the three took the love for their salsa recipe to share it with the rest of the world and make it into an actual business.
They quickly got involved with Smorgasburg NYC, realizing the idea of a breakfast taco wasn’t as popular as in Texas or California. And since both tacos and salsas go together, the founders found themselves with an opportunity. From a taco standpoint, Jalapa Jar has definitely added its own twist. Among their specialties they have their garlic, jalapeño mashed potatoes with crumbled bacon, cheese, eggs, and cilantro. For a more afternoon bite, you can do their own bowl or taco with proteins ranging from super slow cooked shredded chicken, chopped steak, and mushroom with onions and garlic. The success of the salsa and taco makers had them join the catering business and many markets.
But what was so special about this combo? This salsa company set itself apart from others like Tostitos for the freshness with no chemicals or preservatives. “You can purchase some Tostito’s salsas, send it to the moon and still be able to eat it”. We all know it is full of chemicals but we just blindfold ourselves. Jalapa Jar has proven that no chemicals are needed in order to preserve the ingredients. Yes of course it will not last you over a year. But if kept refrigerated, their salsas could last you up to 12 weeks. Red wine vinegar, lime juice, and the natural acidity of the tomatoes is all what’s needed. Jalapa Jar doesn’t look forward to become a national brand full of preservatives rather one like Blue Bottle Coffee or Van Lewens Ice Cream. Both have served as brand marketing inspirations for their artisanal nature, trying to be the best of their categories by sourcing the best ingredients, knowing exactly the best way to make it and presenting themselves as a very clean, ethical brand.
The founder also mentioned how through the development of the company they have not only learned how they want to position themselves in the market but also how to differentiate ingredients regarding sources, seasonality and taste. Jalapa Jar gets its ingredients from local produce manufacturers in the area, such as Baldor and Avanti. They are not able to directly work with farmers yet, but Tommy says as the company grows, they would be able to contact farmers and collaborate with them. In the end, they make it locally, they provide job opportunities to the local community, and also sell at local events like concerts and markets.
And like many food startups, it is currently at a kitchen incubator in the FIDI area. Economically it makes sense to be part of these incubators as small businesses don’t need to pay for kitchen space, rent, utilities, etc. and are also provided an education on how to run their operations successfully – forming some type of community where they support each other and each other’s companies. At the same time, Jalapa Jar has the best of both worlds: the incubator and their own space at the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s Building 77. With this latest venture, Jalapa Jar has the chance to produce even more salsa for a wider audience. As of now, they are in all the Wholefoods of New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York City. With their new location at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, they are striving to be in Massachusetts and D.C.
Besides co-founder Tommy, we also interviewed chef Dillon. With a background in Mathematics, he got himself involved with food at his first job at Waffle Bar. “Just by looking at my apron and seeing all the flour and the mess, I loved it! From that point on, I developed a unique passion to serve people and provide the most delicious food”. Solidifying his interest, he pursued his career as a chef. Short Story, Jalapa Jar wouldn’t be the same without him. Here’s why. Early on, Jalapa Jar sticked to the original recipe as they knew for sure people enjoyed eating it. As neither Tommy nor Steve had much experience in developing recipes, there wasn’t much room for creativity. When Dillon tagged along, he positioned the company to take on new challenges. Many people think that when cooking, recipes are followed over and over again. Absolutely not. If you are going to be making food at a regular basis you need to be creative and learn as you go. Dillon started experimenting with the ingredients, adjusting the rations of fat or salt content for example, and started developing new outstanding recipes that are very popular nowadays.
Jalapa Jar’s strength in the market is certainly the simplicity of their ingredient list. But can you really grow to become a national brand and be in remote locations like Iowa if you are fresh? “It is still a work in progress and definitely have many plans that can potentially help us get there. For example, having a local manufacturer in different areas to reduce the delivery time. Yet again, another challenge as you need to put your trust with so many people like we do with Dillon. We hope we can disrupt the food system. That’s is why we are constantly asking ourselves new questions such as: What are the various forms we can cook our ingredients? or What natural ingredients play the same role as preservatives to have a longer shelf-life?”
Both founders admit it has definitely been a challenge as the routine of knowing exactly what your day is going to look like doesn’t exist anymore. “Now, we don’t get patted on the back every time we do something right like it was before”. But Tommy definitely credits his business background and Smith’s 15 years in the financial sector for their ever-growing success with their product. They are enthusiastic about the future as they know all the time, money, and resources they’ve put in has been worth it so far. Oh, and curious of where they got the name from? The first town in Mexico that grew jalapeños is called Jalapa.
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