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Producer of the Month: Tom Knows Salsa PDF Print E-mail

by Jon Megas-Russell
May 2017

Over the past year or so Tom from Tom Knows Salsa has graced us with his presence for samplings at our
Cinco de Mayo, Apple Cider Social and Shareholder Appreciation Weekend events. His salsa verde
has dazzled our taste buds and many of us have fallen in love, so we felt it fitting to bring his salsa
story to life.

As Tom and I talked a few weeks back, he shared that his story started while living in California. During his tenure in California he loved eating salsa with his favorite meals such as tacos, enchiladas, burgers and fish. As his love for Mexican food and salsa verde grew he began to get inspired and curious about creating his own recipe, but life took a different turn. Over time he realized that he wanted to live in a more serene environment, with more snowshoeing, kayaking, and time in the woods, so 22 years ago he packed up the car and headed to Vermont.

Upon arriving he found that Vermont had a lot of great food: cheese, grass fed beef, maple syrup and so much more. However, he could not find much Mexican food or a salsa verde that he loved. For years he searched for a locally made salsa verde that met his expectations but was unsuccessful. So with a love for cooking and his Californian days as his inspiration, in 2012 he began to work on recipes, spending hours in his kitchen at night. After about a year of eating salsa daily, he and his wife, Devon, found the perfect salsa verde (also known as green salsa). Further proof that his recipe was perfected was the positive feedback he received from his clients, who kept returning with empty sample jars and smiling faces. They would keep asking for more. Then a little food store in Morrisville, Vermont tried his salsa and approached him about selling it. He was over the moon with excitement and began to ramp up his production. In fact he went from spending a few evening hours during the week to full Sundays producing his fresh salsa.

Why green salsa? It is something Tom loves because it is multidimensional—the flavor profile is far more unique than a red salsa. The roasting of the green peppers and fresh ingredients provide a wonderful zest, with elements such as cilantro, lime and onion. Also, if you visit our salsa section here at the Co-op you may see 10 red salsas compared to only one or two green; it’s a niche market that Tom loves.

When talking with Tom he was adamant about how important fresh ingredients and local sourcing whenever possible are to his salsa. In fact they only use fresh veggies. Everything is chopped and roasted by hand, and he and Devon take extreme care in food safety and consistency of their batches. Tom and Devon take deep pride in what they do, and though it takes longer to produce by hand Tom is committed to doing so even as his business grows! They love the process of creating the salsa, and it provides a deep bond and sense ofsatisfaction for them. Tom and Devon both love using habañero peppers because once roasted they take on a citrus flavor, plus it dumbs down the heat a bit. He makes mild, medium and hot versions that all have a depth of flavor and color that is remarkable.

Now that they are distributing to 30+ stores in Vermont, they produce all of their fresh salsa with the Vermont Venture Center in Hardwick. He mentioned that Tom Knows Salsa was one of the first producers to sign on to use their industrial kitchen and take part in their food safety program. He feels ever in debt to them for their kind, generous staff, and for providing them with the finest equipment. He loves showing up with Devon at the Venture Center with 52 boxes of fresh veggies to create his salsa and leaving with hundreds of lovely green jars!

Tom and Devon are both passionate entrepreneurs: she runs a clothing store and he runs a personal training business in Stowe, Vermont. Tom was so thankful for how much his wife Devon does for their business. She is integral in creating the salsa, joining him at events, responding to emails, distribution, labeling and supporting the business in any way she can. She is devoted and Tom said he could not have the success with his salsa without her. For fun they spend time at their family lake house on the outskirts of Eden snowshoeing, hiking, kayaking, canoeing and fishing. They also own another house in Eden, Vermont on 25 acres where their Old English Bulldog, Otto, runs free and brings them much joy! During the summer months they travel together to events across New England to tell the story of their salsa and spread their delicious product to as many people as possible. The product is currently distributed only through the two of them because they love creating relationships with local shops. They are able to educate stores and shoppers about the product and trust that their story is being shared in an appropriate manner. Essentially Tom and Devon do everything from preparation and distribution to sales and sampling.

Tom dreams of growing his salsa business to a place where he and Devon can focus on it full time. He would love to expand in Maine because of the great number of specialty food shops that align with his success in Vermont. Of course Massachusetts, New York and New Hampshire are also on his radar. He talked of growth coming with smart distribution routes that have seven or eight accounts as they travel to a location such as Cape Cod or Portland, ME. He emphasized being strategic and keeping his hands in everything. They hope to partake in an event in Brooklyn, NY this summer and use that as a springboard to new retail stores. Come to the Co-op on May 13 from 12- 3 pm to meet Tom and taste his salsas!