March 9, 2022

The Salsa Collaborative (Season 4 Episode 10)

Nikki and Brian Podgorski created The Salsa Collaborative. Born out of their curiosity for flavor and creativity. The Salsa Collaborative is a collaboration of ideas and tastes which inspires their recipes. Every sauce/salsa is made from scratch and in small batches and bottled by hand. 

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The Salsa Collaborative Podcast Transcript

Stephanie Hansen 0:12
Hello, everybody, and welcome to the makers of Minnesota podcast where we talk to cool people doing cool things. We got to talk to man who made a lip product last week. And this week, we are talking to folks that are in the salsa world. We are talking to Brian pod. Gorski. And Nikki is his partner. And she won’t be on the call today. But we want to mention her because she got called into a last minute meeting from the salsa collaborative. And I first met you, Brian, at a event that I went to. And you were right in the doorway there. And I can always tell what kind of maker a person is, by the way you react when I walked by your booth. And both you and Nicki were there. And you were real clear about getting me in to try a product, try a sample. And it’s so funny how many like trade shows I go to where people sort of wait till you approach the table? And then they’re kind of like, Oh, can I help you? It’s like, No, you know, we’re in Minnesota, people are not necessarily outgoing, and going to just initiate conversation. Every single person, if you’re at a trade show, or a market that walks by your booth, you should be like, Hey, come on and try a sample. And people, not everybody will. But you’d be surprised how many people will if you invite them in. So right away, I was like, okay, these people got it. So welcome to the program.

Brian Podgorski 1:41
Thank you for having me. I’m happy to be here.

Stephanie Hansen 1:43
How did you get into making salsa and why did you start

Brian Podgorski 1:47
so Nikki and I have always been foodies, that’s something that draws us together brought us together. So we just decided that I like salsa, I like anything Mexican cuisine period. It’s one of my favorites. So I wanted to learn how to make salsa, I wanted to make it for myself. We had some friends that were going to teach us but unfortunately, it didn’t happen. So off to YouTube, we went and tried a few different methods until we sort of found the process that gave us what we were after. And then from there just started making batches at home playing around with different things and then just brought a sample to work. Couple co workers tried it, we let some friends try it. And that led me to sitting in front of you today having this wonderful chat.

Stephanie Hansen 2:27
Did you literally just google how to make salsa.

Brian Podgorski 2:31
Yeah, so we knew we were kind of interested in the sauce of viraday style salsa, and just a couple things. And you can find quite a bit of information. So we just, you know, watch a few videos, it doesn’t take us too long to grasp a concept. Nikki and I are pretty handy in the kitchen. So after a couple videos, it was right in the kitchen that’s trying to try to different things, boiling method, roasting method, you know, everything in between, and then playing around with how long do I blend it, you know, the the balance of chilies to other things like that. That’s where we really start to dig into a concept is when we start to put our hands out of the kitchen.

Stephanie Hansen 3:05
It’s so funny because I just got back from Mexico. And I my aunt and uncle rent a house and we go and visit them and they have a cook that she comes with the house. She’s like the housekeeper. Yeah, and you really get a sense from her. She’s in our late 50s. And she’s been from this region the whole time of her life. And she cooks and she’s a wonderful cook. But so much of the cooking that she does is based around the oyster blender that they have. And she writes all of the sauces all of the soups, all of the Aqua chili mixes all of the the fruit waters like she uses that blender, I swear to God, like three times a day. And you know, like I have a Vitamix and I love it, but I probably only use it like a couple times a month, I don’t know. Sure, sure. And she just literally uses it every day. So it it makes me think about like so much of the sauces and the sauces in the cuisine of Mexico in particular start in that blender. So do you with that kind of how you started and yeah, so

Brian Podgorski 4:13
we had a small little tabletop blender you know, I believe it was a ninja is what we started with. It was kind of a nice go to it had some home versus the cost of you know everything else. And at first we didn’t know like in that from no kitchen experience. We didn’t know Vitamix was worth it. Like we heard all of mystique. Food Network has them on everything. So we weren’t exactly sure. But yeah, so it all starts with a blender. You know, everything that you have, as far as an idea goes into that and through the magical process of blending, it comes out the other end and hopefully it’s what you were after. But you can do so much through that blender and that’s a really interesting point that you notice that so much around that cuisine so much of what you experienced circled around that Oster blender, and it really it started with small batches in our kitchen You know, making a half gallon at a time, couple jars to hand out here and there, until you really start to get a hang of what you’re doing. And if you want to make more or less, but yeah, the blender is the the one single tool that took it from, you know, knowing nothing to a hobby to a business.

Stephanie Hansen 5:15
So you started with green, and then where did you go from there.

Brian Podgorski 5:19
So after the sausage, today, we did a couple different versions, mild, medium, and hot, did some special stuff with you know, like peaches and Carolina Reapers or blueberries or something like that some some kind of off the wall stuff. And then we ran into the whole COVID supply chain issue that everybody ran into. Unfortunately, with no small business experience. As Nicki and I both worked in other professions, she still works full time at hertz. We didn’t see that coming. So we couldn’t get any jars for salsa that essentially, you know, stonewalled our three month old business at the time, which even wasn’t a fully legit business, it was on Facebook back in 2020. So we put a deposit, we pause it for a couple months, we had to figure out, you know, what we’re going to do, I stepped away from from my position. And my job because of the COVID COVID scare and everything at the time. So we decided then we have to make autox, we had wanted to make hot sauce down the road, we wanted to launch the sell side and kind of get that dispersed through the market first. All we could get though was hot sauce bottle. So that changed, we had to change gears and change our plan. And thankfully, we took to it much faster than we did the salsa process. After a couple recipes it started taking off. Next thing I know we’re making a fresh hot sauce every three weeks about that. They’re selling out to the local community, all the hot heads that are around our friends, family and things like that. And over the course of a few months, we came up with, you know, probably close to 20 Hot Sauce recipes, but then from that we can turn them into salsa. So it allowed us to continue to grow and expand our product line without really even knowing it at the time.

Stephanie Hansen 6:52
So your whole business was pushed by the COVID situation because of what you could get access to for materials that’s really interesting.

Brian Podgorski 7:02
And the situation that it put us in, you know, we were really comfortable. Prior to COVID. I was making great money. So it’s Nikki and she still lives. But we were forced with the decision of I can’t do my job for the foreseeable future at that time. What do we do, we just bought a house, we have two cars that have payments, I had to I had to find a way to produce income somehow. So I did take another side job, but I kept working the sauce collaborative. The second Nikki punches out from her job she comes home, we both dive into it. So it’s something that took a strong effort from both of us. And thankfully, we met the right people if we made the right moves, and it’s turned into something that sustains my side of the income so that we can still continue, you know, to afford our house to afford the lifestyle that we have, but also grow meet new people make new connections. And just continue on with with our parent with our plan.

Stephanie Hansen 7:54
And you’ve added a hot honey product to how did that come into play. So

Brian Podgorski 7:59
that is a beautiful collaboration with our friend Mike German of 14 Spice three to eight grill 246 Grill. Blessings to Mike and his family, his entire team they’ve been fantastic to work with. They’ve been great friends to us. And I can’t say I’m just so happy for their successes. He started to use our habanero Express, which was it’s kind of our signature sauce. It’s one of our more popular options in his hot honey at the restaurant. After trying it on everything and being like you know, we really liked this really like this. You’re like, Well, Mike was like maybe we put a label on this and get a couple bottles and see what people think. And that was so on the surface. I’m surprised we didn’t come up with that sooner. So after getting everything done, we made it to market just before the Christmas season. And it was wonderfully reviewed, very well received and made StarTribune top 25 lists with the best gifts gifts in the season. It was a blessing in disguise. I didn’t know it was going to be such a popular product. It’s so

Stephanie Hansen 8:55
funny. You You’re very humble person and you’ve talked about like some of this being kind of a happy accident. Do you feel a little bit like that? Yeah,

Brian Podgorski 9:05
exactly. Because, um, so Nikki and I entered first trip to Colorado back in in 2019 or 2018. We came up for the concept of rolled up which was our is our other food business. But that at its time was like an egg roll bar and food truck similar to like a Chipotle style. Come tell us what you want. We wrap it up real quick give it to you. But that was just fun, exciting conversation. You know, while we’re on vacation. So now it’s it’s incredible to see what once was a conversation and a love for just wandering around the farmer’s markets into how we pay our bills. I pal around with chefs all day I go to work at markets I get to meet wonderful people. I get to work with a lot of local businesses, local restaurants. It’s incredibly fulfilling and I’m very thankful that that’s how I can afford to live. And at the same time, the education I get the relationships that we make. I couldn’t be happier. It’s been a fan Experience and all from essentially, yes, a heavy accent.

Stephanie Hansen 10:04
Yeah. And when you talk about like, a lot of folks know about Cry Baby Cry eggs and the fermented salsa process, yeah. Versus the heated process. Have you tried fermented yet? Or are you primarily just gonna do heat? Or do you think you’ll experiment with both?

Brian Podgorski 10:20
So we did two fermented sauces. They were long term ferments as opposed to sort of the average that you would find. They were incredibly well received. Those are some of our fastest sell out for release that we’ve ever done. I know of maybe one or two bottles is still in existence from those two releases. It’s something I really want to get back to enjoy the difference in flavor, the depth that it adds, but it is just Nicky, and I and we’re trying to keep up with the popularity of all of our other products, but it is something we want to get back to it. It’s something that we have planned. So you’ll be seeing some of that from us in the future.

Stephanie Hansen 10:56
How do you primarily sell your products? Do you go to markets? Are you trying to get into grocery stores? Have you gotten down that avenue yet?

Brian Podgorski 11:04
Yeah, we’re kind of everywhere. So at our peak last year, we’re doing five farmers markets a week Chanhassen Chaska Victoria Linden Hills. We’re out in Maple Grove and then a small farmers market and ambivalence in the northeast side of Minneapolis. We’re also in about 22 stores, I believe, across Minneapolis across St. Paul and some of the outer suburbs. And then we’re also in car trading Club, which is a national retailer. 23 states, I think we are with them. So some of that was planned. Yes, I didn’t think it was going to happen in our first six months. The whole reason we got a commercial kitchen anyways, is because Sierra Trading club showed up more like, hey, we need bottles ASAP. And I said okay, we’ll find a kitchen and get that done.

Stephanie Hansen 11:48
So a lot of fights do cuz that’s kind of an odd outline, isn’t

Brian Podgorski 11:52
that it? Is it for a national company to find this through a small enthusiast hot sauce group in Minnesota was pretty impressive. The gentlemen we work with have some ribs to the area. But that’s how we found this is through the the Minnesota hot sauce page.

Stephanie Hansen 12:06
Oh, that’s great, because that is a collaboration that I was started by the folks that lost capital. And I think it was started by the folks that lost capital I maybe they have

Brian Podgorski 12:17
a grid the the Great North sauce makers group, the Minnesota hot sauce group was started by a gentleman hold Bennington, and a couple of his friends, although last capital is obviously busy and and they’re very much a big player in that arena as well. So they’re very well known in that group. I

Stephanie Hansen 12:35
just love the idea of you guys all getting together. And instead of it being sort of a competitive environment, which of course it is, but also that, like, if you can raise all boats that you’ll all do better.

Brian Podgorski 12:47
There’s plenty of room for us to do that. And I think with the effect of COVID on our local economy, the local just seen itself has seen a lot of changes, not necessarily for the good. I definitely think there’s room for everyone, we can all grow together. And if we help each other, we get there a lot faster. But I think we can attain higher goals. If everybody has that same approach to let’s get everybody to the table. That’s that’s all take a seat and let’s make this work for everybody. It’s going to be competitive anytime business is involved. But I think that in from what I were new to the scene, so I can’t speak for, for anything or from a wealth of experience. But it seems the Minnesota scene is a lot more friendly than others. So I’m happy to be part of it.

Stephanie Hansen 13:29
Yeah. And I suppose when you look at your cost of goods, and you’re looking at your cost per bottle, I was just reading today that groceries are up seven and a half percent lays in terms of just inflation. And I imagine that that impacts you guys as well. When you think about a small business, and you think about a product that maybe has a product margin of, I don’t know 4035 to 40%. And then you tack on seven and a half percent because of inflation. That really is a big hit to the bottom line. Have you guys had to raise your prices to factor that in? And are you worried about scarcity of supply again?

Brian Podgorski 14:09
Thankfully, no, we haven’t. We were able to establish a pretty competitive price point from my understanding versus our peers, not that it has any bearing on quality or, or work of our peers. But we were able to secure lines of produce to make sure that we had what we need at most times, everybody has hiccups. But because Nikki and I do everything ourselves from the label creation to filling the bottles to delivery. We don’t have to pay employees. We don’t have to do anything that will require outside income loans or anything like that. So thankfully, we’re set up from the beginning to make the business sustainable for itself. And we haven’t had to increase prices. Our margins were enough to sustain these fluctuations. That was kind of just luck of the draw, I think by us because we’re so new to small business that wasn’t attended and thankfully, another happy accident that we that we haven’t had a chance to prices in which good for our vendors and it’s good for our clients, it stays consistent, you can make sure that you’re going to get what you want at the price that you remember.

Stephanie Hansen 15:07
And as you grow, because I know you’re entertaining some new markets this year, and do you then have to hire employees? And are you? Are you wondering like how that next step will come?

Brian Podgorski 15:21
We’re actually starting to have that conversation Nikki and I about, you know, what, where do we need to add to the team in order to take us to the next level. Bless her heart, her work ethic is second to none that I’ve seen in my life, and I feed off of her energy a lot. That’s how I’m able to do so much. It’s directly because of it, we just been able to accomplish everything that we need to do with if it’s our pop up food events, if it’s just production, or whatever the case may be, we have had some friends help us out. Thankfully, we’ve met some great foodie friends, be it chefs, food bloggers, home cooks, that in a pinch, we can get a lot of help. So thankfully, that again, it just seems like stuff is working out for us. And we really have just a lot of fun with it. But we just find ways to get it done.

Stephanie Hansen 16:07
So how did you think of your name?

Brian Podgorski 16:11
So when we were starting our business, we had a lot of conversations with our friends about you, what would you like to see in a salsa? Is there any flavors that you would like I don’t want to do the typical Mango Habanero stuff. What do you guys like after that you don’t see in sort of Academy is where we’re having these conversations about salsa, we’re collaborating with other people, or thought processes, backgrounds and things like that. So it just kind of naturally came to us that we’re collaborating over salsa, the salsa collaborative, it’s kind of on the nose. And then once we said out loud for the first time, I’m like, oh, that kind of has a nice reach. But I really really dig it. And we just continue to collaborate with people, whether it be chefs, restaurants and custom products for themselves. Anything I would learn from them, it just we’re collaborating constantly. And it just kind of seemed to come together naturally. And the name fits.

Stephanie Hansen 16:59
I like it. I like it. So when you think of other people, and they don’t have to be salsa makers, necessarily, but in the food business that you admire. Are there other folks that you just feel like wow, there’s someone that I admire?

Brian Podgorski 17:12
Yeah. I mean, first and foremost, you know, Mike German has been great for us. And I’m thankful that we met him early on in our business process because he’s one of those solid guys that can introduce you to the industry the right way it’s it’s hard to not started getting nervous when you know Brian Ingram or Justin Sutherland or Stephanie March walks in the room or, you know, some of these people that we’ve met you know, when we did the burger battle Mike’s and Danny Flacco, JD Frankie joy, everybody was sitting there and I was like, Oh, this is a real deal. We’re actually cooking for the who’s who’s of, of the food world. It was just fantastic to just survive that and come on the other side and get to meet all of them because you sort of see them as these figures. And then you realize the real people that love the things that you love, and you have an instant connection, and that’s why this community is just fantastic.

Stephanie Hansen 17:57
It’s really it really is and you seem to be a perfect recipient of that hospitality.

Brian Podgorski 18:03
I appreciate that. Really. I appreciate that. It gets me out of bed every day. I couldn’t be thankful. You know, I do want to mention the boys that boomin barbecue doing it Gary, they’ve been also really implementing it just the knowledge that they’ve imparted like Mike and everybody else just the free knowledge because the they like to talk about what I’m into. It is very humbling because I don’t know what I did is everyone I’m thankful for it.

Stephanie Hansen 18:28
Yeah. So where can people find your salsas in town most readily where would you like to drive them to pick it up to try and what are some favorites that you think they should try first?

Brian Podgorski 18:39
Perfect so we have something kind of for everybody. If you’d like a little bit of fruit in your hot sauce if you want screaming hot chili heat, everything in between we can take care of you you know we love our first and foremost our very first market Tim and Tom’s over in the Como neighborhood there that’s just a great little market Allen the game back in the deli they do great stuff. Viva has been kind of us mini row you know short view liquor on Excelsior kind of we’ve had a lot of of our of our first folks but also to meeting everybody over at, you know, Midtown global silay all those folks were kind of everywhere. Thankfully, you can find all of our locations on our website or our social media handles and pages. It’s all the sauce of collaborative or the salsa, collaborative, calm. And then too you can find us at farmers markets. We’re gonna be doing several throughout the seasons, a lot of pop up events, which will be on the calendar, and then you can order just directly from us.

Stephanie Hansen 19:28
All right, well, it’s been great to talk to you, Brian. I will connect with you so much. Yeah, absolutely. Please say hi to Nikki for me. I know that I’ve called.

Brian Podgorski 19:38
Yeah, no, for sure. All their notes you missed out. Absolutely. All right, and we’ll see each other soon. Stay warm. Thank you so much. Okay, thanks.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai