For the founders of JoMomma’s Salsa, Minnesota native Wayne Kemper and his friends Tim Roche and Tony Ullman, the love of hockey runs deep. Not only because they love the game, but because of the memories of gathering at each others’ homes in high school to bond over food. As they got older, they all played “old-man hockey,” where they’d play and then gather with their families for food and drinks.
It was at these gatherings that Tony started bringing some of his homemade salsa for the guys and their families to try. What started out as one tub of homemade salsa to share, turned into entire weekends making hundreds of batches of salsa in a one-gallon Ninja blender to take to hockey rinks, where players and their families would voraciously devour bowl after bowl. The Salsa was an instant hit. and, JoMomma’s Salsa was born.
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JoMomma’s Salsa Podcast Transcript
Stephanie Hansen 0:12
Hello, everybody, and welcome to the makers of Minnesota where we talk to cool people doing cool things. And today we’re eating some cool things. We’re eating JoMomma’s salsa. And I’m here with Wayne, Kemper, and Wayne, you have entered into the salsa game in a big way from starting out like a lot of people start out with making it for friends and family. Give us your story about Joe Mama’s
Wayne Kemper 0:35
let you’re correct. It started with friends and families actually started at the hockey rinks. My friend Tony came up with the recipes. He was sharing it at a after old man hockey game. And so typically guys get together they share a drink and share whatever they have to bring in eventually what happened was, Tony was bringing like 300 of these tubs of wheat to the hockey rink because people are kept on asking that saying that we want to buy it. So he started selling it. And it’s kind of evolved from there. And so what happened was Tim is our other best friend and myself. He asked us to help them. And we and I declined many times. And then he got to a point where it was a it was a weekend we were going to the pool, and I was trying to get Tony to come with and he was sitting over this one gallon ninja blender, sweating. And I said we’re going to the pool, come on with us. And he said he can’t. He says I have about 300 of these to make. Yeah. I said, Well, this is just silly. I said I’m out of here. So I went to the pool. And at that point, I started researching bigger blenders for Tony. And I bought him a six gallon blender brought it to him and said here just take this, I can’t watch you do this anymore. This is just feel like. And so at that point, Tim was with me at that point as well. And Tony asked again, will you help me? And I said I would if Tim would. And Tim have a pizza place. He does have a pizza place called belt pizza and Cottage Grove. So I knew that we’d have a kitchen. Yeah. And so that’s how we started we were making salsa after hours in the pizza place after we got figured out how to make everything legitimate. Obviously I wasn’t from the food business at that point. Had a little bit of business background though. And and so we started making that after hours 1112 o’clock at night, after we get done with the regular jobs and make salsa till sometimes five in the morning and and get ready. We started doing some farmers markets. And that’s how we started. It was just so we graduated to a bigger blender and and actually we still use that blender today.
Stephanie Hansen 3:08
And do you primarily drive sales through farmers markets? Or are you at retail at this point?
Wayne Kemper 3:16
We we actually have, we have a distributor and we’re in grocery now. So we’re in cub, high V Festival Foods, super ones. And when COVID hit, we kind of get obviously everything went away as far as the sampling. And that was a big deal. So when we actually started, we were a fresh salsa. And we just started to gain some momentum. And then COVID came across and pretty much knocked us backwards. Where we had to reevaluate what we’re going to do as a business. Because we’re just getting into the stores and getting some visibility. And then everybody stopped going to the stores, right. And so our model had changed at that point. And so the decision was either we pack up and call it, you know, Okay, we’re done. Or move to a shelf stable version, which gave us an opportunity to ship it across country, and to be a little more flexible, logistically than we were. So that’s what we did. We made the change.
Stephanie Hansen 4:28
So from going into a packaged version, now that the stores are open, do you think you’ll go back to having a fresh line too? Or will you just stay with the shelf stable?
Wayne Kemper 4:39
You know, I’d say that everything is open to in the future. But right now our focus really is on the shelf stable version of our salsa. I think it’s our future and there’s probably we have had some opportunities to go back into fresh but I think right now, we really want to focus on getting our product are visible, and people trying it. And I think it’s the best, best opportunity for us just to get our brand out in front of each other on in front of people the way it is.
Stephanie Hansen 5:11
The salsa community is so competitive, you know, obviously, there’s just a ton of competitors nationally, and then you have the local folks and somebody like salsa, Lisa, who really was able to grab a ton of market share early on, you have something that’s unique, though with the pineapple mango and habanero salsa, what are your best sellers,
Wayne Kemper 5:34
or best sellers, actually our original version, which is a medium version, and and then it’s pretty much even all the way across the board for other four flavors. You know, I think what sets us apart is we have a little bit of a different flavor. It’s kind of we like to call it a flavor roll, there’s a sweet front to it, then there’s a tart, and then you get the vegetables and the heat in the backend, which I think is a little bit different than what we see out there on the market. And I think that’s what really what is been our success is, is it’s something that’s unexpected. Typically, in the salsa world.
Stephanie Hansen 6:13
I love that you called it the flavor roll, I could totally see that. So in terms of the partnership, is it hard to be in business with your best friends? Like has there been any times where it’s gotten a little weird?
Wayne Kemper 6:24
No, we’ll always be best friends, you know, we have a pretty solid relationship. You know, it’s been difficult far as trying to sustain that at one time, we were all working together. But the business once we went through COVID can sustain everybody. And so you know, we had to look for other jobs or the other guys had to get a full time job so that we could actually keep the business moving forward. I stayed on full time. So we’re just you know, the challenges that are thrown at us are different. And we just try to make sure that we keep our relationship in the forefront and have been able to do that, which is nice.
Stephanie Hansen 6:59
And that’s not uncommon. We, when we had our business, we had like three years under our belt, and then all of a sudden, it couldn’t sustain the two people it was sustaining. So one had to go get work, and do the work on the evenings and the weekends that needed to be done. And then eventually we were able to bring her back and then all three of us together. But you do have to make hard choices sometimes. And who knew that a pandemic was coming? Right? Right only happens every 100 years or so. So when you think about how to get people to try your soul. So like what are what is your strategy? Are you doing events? Are you doing markets? Like? How are you getting this into people’s mouths? And if you get it into their mouth? Are they likely to buy it?
Wayne Kemper 7:39
That’s a great question. You know, that was one of the things that we were doing early on, as we did a lot of events we did any farmers market that we could get into, but our focus really was on on large events. And we were fortunate enough to be invited to quite a few events. You know, we’re at a Minnesota Gopher football game, we were at just trying to think there’s countless kts event. And so we were able to get it out there. And and the reason that we really went into business and in thought this was a viable product was from the farmers markets. When we’re keeping track of our sales there 84% of the people that tried our product bought it. And I thought that was enough for us to try to say this is a business and you know, just the feedback that we get from people when they try our product is is phenomenal. You know, most of the time is I’ve heard different things. But the most common one is, is you know, I could just drink this stuff is is what we hear most commonly. But you know, I remember we’ve heard numerous times, you know, I just eat it with a spoon and you know, like soup. So it’s kind of fun to watch almost. Right? And we call it the Joe Mama’s smile. So what I would tell people as we were going out and we were sampling and doing some of those events, I said just watch their face say we call it the Joe mama smile is when people try it. There’s a reaction that I’ve never seen with any other food where the smile comes across. So that’s it. That’s Joe Mama’s smile. And that’s what we’re looking for.
Stephanie Hansen 9:21
That’s nice. You could maybe bottle that at some point. Right? Right for this summer, where will people be able to find you this spring in summer? We’re gonna
Wayne Kemper 9:30
try to look for any events that we can get out to or still, you know, the hockey world is is, you know, our bread and butter and we’re trying to look at some golf tournaments. But also we’re starting a fundraising program which I think is really important to one to our success and for us to give back because everything is really comes out of the hockey world as far as our salsa. So we’re trying to honor the parents out there, the moms and dads that have to take the kids around to You know, all these different rinks and put the time in, if we can do a fundraising program that can help, you know, alleviate some of that financial hardship, I think it would be a great program for everybody.
Stephanie Hansen 10:11
So have you started that? Like, are you thinking you know, like we’ll sell you a case of salsa at this lower reduced rate and then the kids can resell it as their fundraiser.
Wayne Kemper 10:20
That’s exactly what we’re talking about and we should be introducing that new program is early as April
Stephanie Hansen 10:27
neat, and then you get all these evangelists too that are on your side. I haven’t heard that very much with local products like you see it a lot of with national products or pizzas or cookie dough is so that seems like a good opportunity for
Wayne Kemper 10:43
you. Right? And why not salsa? You know, the pizzas and the cookie dough is in the breads and can church salsa, perfect thing, you know, because we think it is a sports oriented product. You know, people are typically getting this no matter not even hockey, you know, college football Super Bowls. Right now the rains. Salsa is a huge product. And so you know, any type of gatherings sporting event, we we feel that salsa goes with that.
Stephanie Hansen 11:11
All right. Well, it’s great to talk with you, Jo mama salsa. I’m excited to see where this goes for you guys and to find you on my local shelf. Yeah, I’ll be looking at carb and high V and I hope I can I want to try the pineapple mango.
Wayne Kemper 11:27
Stephanie Hansen 11:28
Well, it definitely seems like it would be great with fish. So
Wayne Kemper 11:32
yes, actually, it is great with fish. We did a spot on kare 11 When we started actually and one of the items that we did was a salmon with the pineapple mango.
Stephanie Hansen 11:46
Yeah, love it. All right. Well, thanks for your time today, Wayne, and I look forward to helping support you through the makers in Minnesota and good luck.
Wayne Kemper 11:54
Well, thank you so much for having us. Definitely. Thanks. Bye bye now.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai