Salsa has become a staple of party menus, and for many people, that means simply picking up a name brand jar or two of the popular treat.
For Peters Township resident Jessica Cumba, salsa isn’t really salsa unless she makes it from scratch. And guests at her parties love it that way.
“If you put this in a jar, I would buy it,” She said she was told.
So she figured, “Hey, why not?” she said.
She and her husband, Martin, took the plunge of starting their own company to produce Salsa Aguilar. The brand draws from Jessica’s maiden name, and her father’s side of the family has a crest bearing an eagle – in Spanish, that’s “águila” – which serves as the salsa’s logo.
It took the better part of six months for the couple to research licensing, certifications and “everything you need to go through, because we wanted to do it the right way,” according to Jessica. Aided by the expertise Martin gained through his recently earned master of business administration, they launched Mexitalia Specialties LLC, named for her half-Mexican, half-Italian heritage.
Jessica grew up in a household where home-cooked meals were the norm, and when she was dating Martin, she’d bring him dinner during late nights on the job at Sun Chevrolet in Peters Township.
Three children later, they’ve become adept at juggling the aspects of family life with the logistics of making and marketing Salsa Aguilar. Their parents help out quite a bit, especially with 9-year-old Eva, 7-year-old Amira and 6-year-old Martin III.
But Martin II, who continues to work full-time, and especially Jessica have a full schedule in running their own business.
“Honestly, you just have to keep a calendar,” Martin said. “Then there’s a lot of: ‘Hey, can you run here? Hey, can you grab this for me?’ It’s a team effort.”
Sometimes the team does include the younger Cumbas, such as when they open newly purchased jars so that they can be cleaned thoroughly prior to being filled with salsa.
“Part of the reason we started doing this was to get the kids involved and show them that they could start something and pursue it, and that if you put the hard work into it, it can be successful,” their dad said.
Along with their home’s HGTV-worthy kitchen, the Cumbas have an industrial-grade cooking area in their basement to make Salsa Aguilar, for which they purchase fresh produce in the Strip District on a weekly basis.
Going into their third year of production, the batches of salsa are becoming larger. They have been selling at various food-related events and farmers’ markets – they’re a fixture at the one each Wednesday at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Peters Township – and now have the product stocked on grocers’ shelves in three counties.
“Jessica as been very much a go-getter when it comes to finding different store opportunities and stopping in and saying, ‘Hey, why don’t you try my salsa?’” Martin said.
And she receives a lot of affirmatives.
“We’ve been having more opportunities with stores, and they want several cases at a time, and so to fit that in with our regular production schedule has been a new challenge,” Martin said. “But it’s something that’s been fun.”
Speaking of having a good time, the Cumbas tried out for ABC-TV’s “Shark Tank” when auditions came to Pittsburgh, and they learned that prospective entrepreneurs are given all of 60 seconds to present their pitches.
“So I said, ‘Honey, we need to do something completely out of the box, something to get us noticed,’” Jessica recalled. “So, I wrote a 30-second rap song.”
And rap she did for the “Shark Tank,” espousing the virtues of Salsa Aguilar to a beat provided by Martin’s cellphone. Then he wrapped things up, so to speak, by delving into more business-oriented details.
“He’s the logical one, and I am the free spirit, obviously,” Jessica said. “Perfect match.”
For more information, visit www.salsaaguilar.com.