Salsa Queen has come a long way from their days as “salsa dealers,” arranging sales on Facebook and exchanging salsa for money in parking lots. Based in Utah, Salsa Queen provides fresh, delicious, preservative-free salsas to stores across the nation.
And just recently, Salsa Queen expanded its offerings to include freeze-dried salsas. Available on GGG, the freeze-dried salsas are perfect for backpacking, adventure travel and more.
The founder of Salsa Queen shares her name with the brand. Born Maharba Zapata, she legally changed her name to Salsa Queen.
The way Salsa Queen grew up in Monterrey, Mexico, people just drop in any time of day. Immediately, what you do is cook for them. It’s not even a question, just the culture. The way she put it, as gratitude for you thinking of us and visiting us, we’re gonna show you love.
Years later, anything from the color of the sky to the smell of burnt tortillas can take Salsa Queen right back to Monterrey. The feeling is kind of melancholic, those memories being very dear to her heart.
It was a hard decision for her parents to leave Mexico. When her dad lost his job, he moved up to Utah where his brother was. He worked for a year and a half, saving up money and living in some poor conditions. When he was able to afford an apartment, he got in a dinky little car and drove all the way to Mexico to pick up Salsa Queen and her mom.
Salsa Queen was ready. She had always been a dreamer.
However, Salsa Queen didn’t speak the language, and this left her in a vulnerable position. When she went to high school, for instance, to enroll, she went by herself. When the school asked her for some paperwork, she thought they were asking for legal papers. So, she never went back. She never finished high school.
Salsa Queen has had some hard times. She’s been through two divorces. Her first child passed away from Leukemia. She has seven other children.
As she told me her story, she did so alongside Jim, to whom she is now happily married.
Recalling her life before Salsa Queen, she told me, “Since I was 17, through 40, you know it was…”
Jim finishes for her, “-diapers.”
“It was diapers!” She picks up immediately, laughing. “A lot of diapers.”
After her second divorce, Salsa Queen was in a desperate place. She was living off food stamps, medicaid, and help from the church. A question that Jim asked her, not long after they started dating, helped her reconceptualize her life. As they were walking one day, he asked her, “So what would you like to do?”
Nobody had ever asked her that. “You know, in my mind, I was worthless. I had no talent, I had no education, but somehow I still had dreams of having nicer things and being somebody, you know?”
After a brief venture into making stroopwafels, she settled on something that spoke her language: salsas. She came to Jim and told him that’s what she wanted to do.
“And then he threw me under the bus,” she says, “put me on Facebook, and said, ‘My girlfriend is selling salsa, if you want to place an order please do it.’” She was terrified of rejection, but he had already put the word out, “so there wasn’t backing down from that.”
Jim suggested the name of Salsa Queen, too. Salsa Queen herself thought the name was the cheesiest thing ever. “So, now, that’s my name,” she says, a little tongue-in-cheek.
The Salsa Queen logo is an ode to her family. Symbolic of Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, the sugar skull and the brand itself is a memorial to Salsa Queen’s first son who passed away. In this way, he is always with them. He’s a part of their journey.
In the beginning, Salsa Queen would gather her kids in the kitchen and make salsas with a hand chopper. The kids’ friends would come to visit, and Salsa Queen would put them to work too.
Before their first farmer’s market, a friend told her not to make too many salsas. If she only took 50 and she didn’t sell them, she wouldn’t feel too bad. Instead, she took 100, and in two hours, they were sold out.
That first day, she had 500 dollars in her hand. It was the most money she’d ever made by herself, and she realized she could make a living doing this. She was proud, sitting there all day with her “sold out” sign.
From there, she went from being stocked in four local stores to essentially elbowing her way into Kroger. She walked right up to store managers. She called buyers. She broke through by simply pursuing the things she needed for success.
Suddenly, Salsa Queen was delivering to 12 stores, producing samples, managing the invoices, — and she still had seven young kids to take care of. It’s been a long road since then, but they’ve found success and their lives have changed as a result.
When people tried her salsas, that was it. She was in. It remains true with the freeze-dried salsas too. Once you try it, you don’t go back.
Freeze-dried salsas are the latest piece of Salsa Queen’s story. They’re offering four distinct flavors — Zesty Cantina, Mango Pineapple, Red Chili, and Roasted Tomatillo. You can rehydrate them by cold soaking in the bag, or any container of your choice.
Salsa Queen’s freeze-dried salsas are ultralight, easy to transport, and incredibly flavorful. Add them into a dinner of your own creation or simply eat them with chips. It’s pretty hard to go wrong, especially when you’re 20 miles from nowhere.
The idea for these delicious little packets came from Salsa Queen visiting a house expo with her husband, Jim. There, they saw some freeze-dry machines, and were hit by a spark of inspiration. It was hard to visualize at first, but it has become a great new business venture.
Without sacrificing flavor, these packets are so light and compact that they’re easy to ship around the world, to New Zealand and beyond. Like all of Salsa Queen’s offerings, they’re made with high-end ingredients and loads of love.
The new freeze-dried salsas are particularly visionary. Salsa Queen remarked that she and Jim have both been visionary and crazy throughout this journey. As she puts it, “You gotta have thick skin and some craziness in-between.”
Matthew Kok is an essayist, a poet, a traveler, and absolutely in love with the world outside. They are currently operating out of Manapouri, a little town in Aotearoa–South Island, New Zealand. You can find them curled up with Stormy the housecat or cooking up big, elaborate breakfasts late in the morning. You can also find them on Instagram at @matt.kok