Jack Coldren is learning the ins-and-outs of the salsa business one jar at a time.
The longtime Manteca resident – who has lived in Manteca for more than 60 years – has spent the majority of that time perfecting the recipe for what would become “Jack’s Famous Salsa.”
It’s known to friends and family as “The Salsa That Named Itself” and now the retired social worker and ministry leader is taking the plunge to get his famous dip and topping into stores throughout Northern California.
And he used a new tactic to raise the money necessary to embark on the endeavor.
Thanks to donors through Kickstarter – an Internet fundraising tool that allows individual people to ask for donations to get projects off the ground – Coldren was able to generate the seed money necessary to work with a co-packer and order the first shipment. It arrived in cases – jarred and labeled and read for shelves – and now he’s making the push into local grocery stores and regional chains hoping that it’ll take off.
“I had people telling me that it’s the best salsa that there is and I have to find a way to get into the market,” said Coldren. “I’ve never done anything like that before and what ended up happening was I started on a process to see how you actually get a product like that into stores.
“It really was a maze – having to raise $10,000 in 45 days and finding a good co-packer that worked with me and learning the process – and it took 18-months to get to where I am right now. But it’s not like anything else on the market right now and I’m hoping that people will take notice of it.”
The process was a lot more labor-intensive than just figuring out the right blend of ingredients.
While he knew what worked for the jars that he himself would make every year to give away as gifts, he had to perfect a recipe that could be produced on a mass scale – figuring out the exact ingredients and additions that could be replicated to produce a consistent taste and texture that have become the calling card of his famous concoction.
Finding the right co-packer was also a trial-and-error experience. Coldren’s first foray ended up costing him $1,000 but showed him exactly what he was looking for, and he was ultimately able to find somebody in Healdsburg that could take his mixture and create it sustainably.
He turned to the Internet and a networking service to create the product label – which presented its own unique challenges to comply with all legal mandates – and ended up with a label of his caricature that he hopes will made identifying the jar easier in the massive display in most grocery stores.
And now that he’s navigated all of those waters and Jack’s Famous Salsa is something that you can buy and not just be lucky enough to receive, he’s learning all about marketing a product and getting into chain stores where fans will be able to purchase it.
“Right now I’m talking to Save Mart and looking at some places that could get this out to people here in the valley and see where that goes,” he said. “I think the biggest strength is what sets it apart from other salsas that are out there. I remember that Pace Picante ‘New York City?’ commercial, and where that is kind of watery this has a different substance that makes it a favorite of people.
“It’s a learning process and something that’s new to me but it’s also fun at the same time.”
Last week Coldren had a tasting event at Fagundes Meats and Catering on Jason Street – the first local store to carry his salsa – and said that the input from customers was nothing but positive. Owner Frank Teixeira, who has been somewhat of a mentor to Coldren having gotten his signature products into local grocery stores, sold out of his cases – the first ones officially bought – and has ordered more to keep his shelves stocked.
That sort of guidance, he said, has been instrumental as he navigates the uncertain waters and embarks on a new chapter of his life.
If he ever gets discouraged Coldren said that all he has to do is think about the feeling he got when that first shipment arrived at his Manteca home.
“It was exciting. I thought ‘oh my gosh – it really happened,’” he said. “It’s amazing because when I started to look at copackers, they all wanted to know where my warehouse was. It’s my garage. And now that we’ve gotten to that point we’re going to focus on getting it to people and go from there.”