Sometimes successful businesses are the end result of a lifelong vision and sometimes you start making salsa for friends and end up seeing your products in Ellen’s refrigerator.
For mother-daughter team Anne and Ali Altamirano at Mesa Salsa, it was the latter.
The Altamiranos live on the Mesa, and all of their children have been born and raised in Santa Barbara. The family is very creative in the kitchen, said Anne.
“We’ve always loved cooking together as a family. I have four kids so when they were all in the house we would have dinner together, and then we do holidays at our house. It’s just a joy. It’s really fun. We just love cooking together. There’s a great energy with it.”
When Ali, the oldest, went off to San Francisco for culinary school, Anne started experimenting with her Mexican-American mother-in-law’s salsa recipes and sharing them with friends.
“I had been working on the ‘hot’ recipe actually, and figured that out. It took like two years and I would test it out on my husband’s tennis league team or people would ask us to bring it to parties and stuff. Sometimes I would make it super hot, it was kind of a game. It was fun, but I got it to a point where it was good,” said Anne.
When Ali returned to Santa Barbara, she and her father convinced Anne to take salsa making to the next level and start a family company.
Seven years later, the family’s business, Mesa Salsa, is thriving and sold in markets all over Southern and Central California, and even one in Marblehead, Massachusetts.
The salsas can be found in major chains like Whole Foods and Bristol Farms, as well as local markets like Mesa Produce and Montecito Village Market.
The business is run by Ali, who is the creative and marketing lead for Mesa Salsa, and Anne, who operates as a sort of general manager, with help from Mr. Altamirano as “CFO,” said Anne.
“My husband still works as a civil engineer and does the salsa, so he has two jobs and I’m really grateful for that. The financial part is such a huge component of a business, so it’s nice to have him on board.”
The Altamiranos keep things simple at Mesa Salsa with three flavors: hot, medium and mild. Originally they wanted to stick with just hot and mild, but Gelson’s convinced them to add a third flavor, and it’s been a hit.
Mesa Salsa’s fresh, bold products are NON-GMO, vegan, gluten free, and 100% natural, something Anne had a hard time finding before starting the company. At the time, she was on a strict nutritional diet and needed something to spice things up.
“When I would go to the store all the salsas had artificial ingredients and stuff I didn’t want to put in my body,” said Anne. “We really did not do this to have a business. We did it more for our own health and just to make it as quality and the best taste we could come up with.”
Even though building a business wasn’t their goal, the Atamarinos have worked hard building relationships with markets across the state to get Mesa Salsa on the shelves. It took two years to get through the application process for Whole Foods, but with Mesa Salsa on shelves in 19 of their locations the effort has clearly been worth it.
“Once we were in Whole Foods, that store really propelled us and we just have so much great feedback,” said Anne.
Branching out to the LA area has even helped Mesa Salsa make a splash in the celebrity world. When talk show host Ellen Degeneres promoted Miyoko’s Vegan Butter on Instagram with a shot of her refrigerator, Anne’s friends noticed something else sitting in the back.
“People were sending that to us and I was like, ‘why are they sending us Miyoko’s?’ and then I really looked at the picture and went ‘Oh! Our salsa’s in there!’” said Anne.
As the business grows, Ali continues to experiment with recipes, like an enchilada sauce she has in the works. People always ask the Altamiranos when Mesa Salsa will come to Northern California, but Anne says first thing’s first.
“We want to try to do stuff in a sustainable fashion. It’s just one step at a time. Our goal is to have compostable containers and have that all in line. Before we have a bigger footprint we want to have a sustainable packaging and everything,” she told the News-Press. “We’re kind of open to whatever happens happens, but we’re happy with the local things. It’s very manageable for us.”
To find locations that sell Mesa Salsa products, visit www.mesasalsa.com.