Would You Eat Salsa Labeled “Way Too Hot”?
Texas-style Donkey Salsa out of Irvington may test your Yankee palate for hotness.
Photo by Heather Sommer
Americans love their salsa, spending more than $2 billion in 2016 on the stuff. A few years ago there were reports by various media outlets about how salsa had outpaced ketchup in sales revenue as America’s number one condiment (though mayonnaise, it was reported at the same time, was the reigning condiment champ by popularity).
Regardless of ranking, salsa is not doubt a go-to sauce for everything from tortilla chips to baked potatoes to scrambled eggs and tacos — and Irvington’s Ashley Nilsson thinks she’s onto the next great salsa product Donkey Salsa. She started the business in in the late summer/early fall of 2017, when, as a stay-at-home mom getting restless from the day-to-day chores of running a household (“there’s only so much cooking and cleaning you can do before you go a little crazy”), she thought to make a business out of her Aunt Melitta “Litty” Taylor’s salsa recipe. “It tastes like restaurant style salsa —fresh, balanced flavor, consistently small chunks, and really really hot.”
Nilsson, who grew up in Dallas-Fort Worth, and moved to Westchester in 2004, doesn’t have too many kinds words for the commercial brands of salsa sold at local supermarkets. “They’re too chunky or pasty, don’t have enough spice, or the flavor is just off,” says the mom of two preschoolers.
Nilsson first became salsa-obsessed when Aunt Litty would send her care packages of the home-made salsa while she studied fine art at SUNY Fredonia from 2005 -2009. “I couldn’t wait for more.” She began to make it herself, always crediting her Aunt Litty with the recipe of tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, lime juice, salt, sugar and spices (as to which ones, she is tightlipped).
“I made it for family and friends, who were constantly telling me it’s something people would buy.” Nilsson approached Aunt Litty about a business collaboration, but she responded ‘I don’t think anyone is going to buy it — everyone makes their own.’
Not true Aunt Litty, not true.
Using the kitchen at her father-in-law’s restaurant, Broadway Grill Tavern, Nilsson goes in mornings while her children are at preschool to make and jar the salsa; she sells about 120 jars a month between the TaSH Farmers’ Market ($6.50/15.5 oz jar), Geordanes ($6.95/jar), and her website ($6.95/jar).
The most challenging part of growing a small business for Nilsson was all the hoops she had to jump through via government red tape: getting licensing, forms to fill out, etc. She hopes to reach profitability by end of 2018.
And how about the funky name? It’s not for a particular political affiliation but instead inspired by her donkey piñata logo. “I came up with the logo before the name, and my friend Annie Chamblis would repeatedly remark, ‘I love your donkey salsa stamp,’ and it stuck.”
The original variety offered was Hot, but now she has five including Not Hot, ½ Hot (the equivalent of a medium), Too Hot, and Way Too Hot (made with habanero powder – look out!).
“I was a picky eater when I was a kid and didn’t even start eating salsa until college,” Nilsson explains. “Now every free minute I have, I’m either cooking salsa, building crates, screen-printing T-shirts, planting jalapenos, gluing piñatas, or slingin’ it all at the farmers’ market. It’s a huge part of my life.”
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