Happy New Year everyone!
How was 2022 ?
In short - it was mental. Everyone says that the first 2-3 years of business are a hard slog. You’re constantly problem solving, fighting fires and living in survival mode.
Well, this is the start of the third year for Salsa Stories and it’s certainly been true so far for me!
It is physically and mentally absorbing and simultaneously exhilarating and anxiety inducing. It’s a challenge. And luckily, I am 100% game.
This year I figured out that markets were where I could get cash flow from. I love supplying my local delis in Bristol - but ultimately retail is a longer game.
The way I see it is that at the moment, I basically have a ‘common sense’ business. What I mean by that is I can make something with my hands (the most amazing fresh salsas this side of the pond) and then physically take them to a market and sell them. All of that is very straightforward – anyone can do that. It’s within everyone’s realm of imagination how that works.
What remains opaque to me (but what I’m trying to figure out) are things like getting into wholesalers with the logistics of a chilled product, or getting finance to scale the business.
I’m a novice at all of this. So for my business to work in the shorter term I had to make my main focus of 2022 markets.
I love markets. I love the traders. I love the organisers. I love the punters. I love the banter. It’s just good fun vibes. (Except the rain. That is never good). There’s a really lovely and supportive community of local growers and food producers and I’ve really got to know some of them this year.
It took about 6 months of trading until I finally cracked markets. What I noticed at the start of the year was that what people want at a market is something to eat straight away. People are prepared to spend money on lunch because it’s a relatively small and justifiable treat. But they’re more hesitant to buy other products.
I can totally relate to this – I’ll spend ages deliberating over whether to spend £30 on a piece of clothing or a print that could potentially bring me years of joy, but I’ll drop it on a night out without even thinking about it! Branching out
So I pivoted the business towards catering and started buying in Chimichangas and Empanadas from La Ruca, a gorgeous little independent deli on Gloucester Road in Bristol. It was the perfect vehicle for getting people to try my fresh salsas! And it made markets work.
Now we do our own signature nachos and we’re about to launch some new products (more on this later), taking inspiration from South American and Texmex cuisine with a vegetarian and vegan twist.
So I started doing more and more markets – around 160 last year (!). Until the summer I was doing it all myself. I was planning and prepping at the start of the week. Then doing markets Thursday – Sunday. I’d get home on an evening and start prepping for the next day. And then I’d be up at 5am to make guacamole.
It was completely unsustainable.
And not only that - more importantly I’ve got 2 kids (4 and 6 years old), and let me tell you - the mum guilt is real. I am so grateful for my partner Naz – he has totally been holding the fort while I attempt to sort out my work/life balance. I’ve missed my kids so much this year. But it is temporary. Just a blip in the greater scheme of things. It won’t always be like this.
So I starting asking for help. And I’ve now got a lovely team of 8 people – including my lovely father-in-law Taghi and my partner Naz who I’ve roped into doing a market every month.
Thank you Naz!.
I wish I had a big group photo I could share, but the nature of the work means we’re never all together. I am so grateful for each and every one of my team.
Most of them are trading at markets but I also have some help in the kitchen (shout out to Michelle!) and this has made such a massive difference to the business and to my life.
However, despite this I am still working most weekends. Hiring people hasn’t yet resulted in me being able to reclaim time with my kids – it’s just meant that I can trade at more markets at the same time which is what Salsa Stories needs right now to work.
So I am very much still hiring!
If you know anyone Bristol-based with a car looking for weekend work then send them my way!
During all of this I moved kitchens. After leaving the Food Works in Weston-super-Mare back in March and using my friend Shona’s café kitchen for a few months (the lovely Emmeline at Spike Island – incidentally where I used to have a studio in my former life as an artist – so weird to be back there!), I finally moved into a new place in August less than 10 minutes’ walk from my house. It couldn’t be more convenient!
This has made a massive difference to the logistics of our lives – negotiating school pick-ups and drop offs etc. If I forget something, it’s not a complete disaster. I can just pop back! (It’s the little things…).
The space was a big empty warehouse which I’m sharing with other local food businesses, Masa Tortillas and Murray Mays. We converted it into 3 kitchen units. It’s really great being with these guys. Their businesses are more established than mine and I’m always picking their brains and borrowing equipment from them (thanks guys!).
All 3 of my salsas won gold awards at Taste of the West. This was extremely validating and I did not shout loud enough about it!
I MAKE AWARD-WINNING SALSAS!
Here’s what the judges had to say:
Coriander & Lime Salsa:
“Very refreshing, clean, aromatic flavour with a good hit of chilli. It packs a punch of flavour with both the key ingredients balanced and working well together.”
“Sensational! Truly excellent – delicious flavours, perfectly balanced with a little heat in the right place. Particularly bright, bold and zingy flavours considering the product has been pre-made.”
“A fresh, zingy flavour. The tomato dominates as expected, we can taste underlying citrus from the lemon juice and the garlic and oregano compliments it beautifully. Good medium heat, not too overwhelming. Tastes like a good, authentic Tex Mex salsa which would make a great dip or condiment.”
I mean, I’m blushing!
But the best thing that happened to me in 2022 is the Natwest Accelerator. If you are running a business, in any field, apply for the Natwest Accelerator.
It’s amazing. It’s free. And it will sort your business out.
Honestly, the knowledge I’ve gained since being there is incredible – and the confidence that I am making good decisions for my business. Plus the connections – the cohort is full of expertise in all fields – finance, marketing, everything. It’s brilliant. And you get coaching. And it’s fun!
Now I just need the time to keep implementing everything I’ve learned so far. And therein lies the problem… time. Which is why I know that I need to stop working in the business, to be able to start working on the business.
I am so caught up in the day to day running of everything that it’s tricky for me to find the time to take Salsa Stories forwards.
Which is why one of my goals for this year (by spring so you can hold me to account) is to extricate myself from production and working at markets. With the latter I’ll regain time with my kids and with the former I’ll be able to focus on other things in the business; like how to grow it.
I am so excited for 2023. This is the year when the market side of Salsa Stories will stabalise, which will mean that I can start exploring how to scale it.
So 2023 is going to be the year of ‘working smarter - not harder’!
I’ve already decided to take Salsa Stories in a new direction; in addition to markets I’ll be focussing on food service. That’s selling larger volumes to cafes, restaurants, bars, hotels etc, potentially via wholesalers. And this might mean at some stage working with a co-packer to manufacture larger quantities.
I’ve no idea how to do any of this so having that time is essential to figuring this out. It will mean working with other people and companies who do know what they’re doing (thankfully!).
In other exciting news I’ve got 2 new salsa flavours to launch in 2023 – Beetroot Salsa and Tomatillo and Avocado Salsa. I made them earlier this year and took them for a spin at Tobacco Factory market. They went down a treat. I personally think Beetroot needs a few more tweaks to get the perfect balance, but Tomatillo and Avocado is banging!
I can’t wait to launch these!
We’re also going to introduce some Tortilla Samosas to our market offering as well as a healthy rice bowl bursting with flavour, with chipotle black beans or butternut and pinto, a choice from our 5 fresh salsas, Mexican Sauerkraut from Glastonbury Ferments, a crunchy slaw, pink pickled onions and a crunchy tostada (toasted using Masa Tortillas’ real corn tortillas).
OMG I’m getting hungry just writing about it!
So excited to kick this off at markets in January.
I’ve also got financial goals for the business – like paying myself consistently! This is the dream right!?
This is the year when this absolutely must (and will) happen.
Businesses just suck up money. Money goes into my account every Wednesday and at the end of the day it’s gone! There’s always something to fix or something to buy and it’s a choice between paying myself now or waiting a bit longer so I can invest in something that will make our work more efficient or our products better.
The decision to start Salsa Stories two years ago was the best decision I ever made. I absolutely love this business. I love the challenge of it. I’m learning all the time and it’s so fun and rewarding.
But the best thing about having a business is the person I’m becoming along the way! (I know that’s cheesy, but it feels really true).
I really do love this so much and I’m really grateful for everything that is coming my way in 2023.