From a modest start in 2003, Odell business now employs 13 and serves 100 Northwest stores
By Stu Watson
When opportunity walked through the door in 2003, Veronica Jimenez grabbed hold and never let go. Fourteen years later, she and her family stand at the center of a bustling, growing business making and selling Veronica’s Salsa.
Veronica was working at the former Produce Kountry in Hood River when she noticed how many customers asked for salsa. The store didn’t stock salsa, but Veronica took care of that.
“I made a few containers in my kitchen at home in Odell,” Veronica says. “I sold all the containers.”
Someone told her about the Saturday Market in Hood River.
Veronica made more salsa, and it all sold. She was making $7 a week on top of her pay. Her husband, Valente, was still working construction, and Veronica’s revenues all went back into supplies to make more salsa.
“I made my own labels, with the computer,” she says.
Health inspectors inquired about Veronica’s kitchen. That was when she learned she needed to have a kitchen certified as adequate for healthful food production.
“I needed a refrigerator, but I had no money,” she says. “My mom gave me a little refrigerator, the kind they use in dormitories.”
Veronica also needed $90 for a permit. “I knew I needed more money,” she says.
Veronica went to Mid-Valley Market and asked if it would stock her salsa.
“They said, ‘Sure,’ but then I knew I needed insurance in case somebody got sick, and I knew I needed to make a little more money,” she says.
That was when Valente started helping.
Valente came to the United States as a teenager, without his parents. Like many immigrants, he struggled. He met Veronica 24 years ago, on a trip back to San Juan de los Lagos in the Mexican state of Jalisco, and brought her back to Odell.
“In the evenings, after construction, he would do deliveries,” says Isamar, the couple’s oldest child.
Isamar joined the business as office manager in 2016 after graduating from Oregon State University with a degree in public health and health care administration. She hopes to pursue a career in that field some day, but for now she says, “I love helping my parents out.
“It’s because of my father that this company has grown so much. He kept working construction because he was afraid this wasn’t going to take off.” Valente first got Veronica’s Salsa accepted for sale at Rosauers in Hood River.
“The big challenge was Safeway,” he says.
Isamar tells how her father approached Safeway about stocking Veronica’s Salsa.
“He went every day,” she says. “He went and went and went, and it took maybe a couple of years, but he never gave up.”
After Safeway added Veronica’s in 2008, and it started flying off the shelves, Veronica’s found space at the Safeway in The Dalles—and beyond.
“It’s easy to get placement now,” Isamar says, “when they know how well it sells.”
At 6 a.m. Monday through Friday, some of the company’s 13 employees show up at the small manufacturing facility in the John Weber Business Park in Odell. They chop onions, peppers and tomatoes by hand, and bunch it in large mixing tubs—separate for mild and picante recipes—before Valente blends it with a large, hand-held electric blender.
A suction hose pumps the salsa to an automated production line, where filled containers get labels and shrink-wrap seals before moving to refrigerators.
In the afternoon, containers of salsa move from the production area into one of three refrigerated delivery trucks, where they wait for delivery drivers to show up at 3 a.m.
Drivers get the salsa to 100 retail customers, the newest of them three Fred Meyer and two WinCo Foods stores in the Salem area.
The family financed its business entirely off cash flow until securing a loan from the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District in 2015 to help buy processing equipment.
“For us to buy our first van, it was so hard,” Veronica says. “We are low-income people. We didn’t have credit. That van cost $5,000. We didn’t have $5,000.”
They eventually found a high-interest loan.
“Everything is different when you don’t have nothing,” Veronica says. “But my husband will never give up.”
Valente no longer works construction, focusing entirely on expanding the Veronica’s brand.
And the salsa’s namesake? During the school year, Veronica works in the kitchen at Hood River Middle School.
She remembers making 300 masa tortillas one day, as well as refried beans the way her family did back in Mexico, so kids could build bean burritos.
“Everybody was crazy for them,” she says. “My husband wants me to stop and just work here (at the salsa kitchen). But I like the school.”
Work, clearly, is what the family knows. They try to take weekends off, but are quick to respond to demand at all times. They got a call late one week from Thunder Island Brewing in Cascade Locks. They needed 25 gallons of salsa.
“So we came down and made it,” Veronica says. “We produce on demand, because we don’t use preservatives.”
That extra effort has helped build repeat sales and name recognition beyond their small-town home.
While dining recently at the 6th Street Bistro in Hood River, Veronica and Valente were introduced by proprietor Chris Creasy to some neighboring diners from Portland.
Veronica smiles as she proudly repeats the couple’s response. “‘Oh,’ they said. ‘We know Veronica’s Salsa.’”