Gardnerville’s Killer Salsa brand still going strong 25 years later
April 17, 2018
In 1993, Fran Pritchard only had an inkling whether her work to start a small business selling salsa would be successful.
"I went around to the different grocery stores that were in the local area and talked to the store managers; I carried my little bag of chips, my little pint of salsa and my business card," she recalled. "I said, 'This is my product, give us a try, and if you like us, let us sell it here.'"
As it turned out, her sales pitch was a killer.
Killer Salsa, that is.
And 25 years later Pritchard's product is widely known around western Nevada and has been distributed through various grocery outlets around the West Coast.
The efforts of Pritchard and her small staff of workers was acknowledged recently when Killer Salsa received the "Swimming Upstream" award from Nevada Business Magazine. The award was presented on March 8 at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno.
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"It was a real honor that we won the Swimming Upstream category for women in business," said Pritchard, who is pictured on a Nevada Business Magazine plaque with her son, Bryan, and production foreman Vivian Rumker, who has been with Killer Salsa for 20 years. "It was a big surprise to me because I was up against people from bigger businesses than I was."
KILLER SALSA VISION
Pritchard grew up in New York and eventually developed her love for hot food while living as a teenager in Tucson, Arizona. Later, she was married and living in San Jose working as a food service manager when the salsa story really began.
"I started to make salsa for my breakfast customers and they called it 'killer salsa.' They said I should quit my job and go into business making salsa," she said. "You know, making a product for your family and friends, everybody loves it, but when you try to sell it, that's a whole different ball game."
Her first day of business was Super Bowl Sunday 1993.
"We sold 14 pints of salsa the first day because the little mini-mart I was working at let me sample it," she recalled. "I sold 14 pints and I said, 'Oh, gee, that's cool, people will actually pay for my product.'"
Did Pritchard envision how this would all turn out?
"Throughout this whole adventure, I always kind of had a feeling I had a guardian angel sitting on my shoulder telling me what to do and how to do it," she said, smiling.
Pritchard went on to point out a couple of examples, including the idea of a personalized license plate — KLRSLSA — that just came to mind.
"I've had some people who have appeared in my life and have been there for a short time who have really helped me along the way. I will go some place and talk to somebody and they will tell me how to do something that I have never thought of before."
Killer Salsa has operated at three locations these past 25 years. Pritchard moved her business in 2013 to its current facility in the Gardnerville Ranchos, not far from the original site where she opened in a 550 square foot space previously occupied by Randy's Sub Shop.
Little has changed in the production these past 25 years, she explained. For one, the salsa is made and packaged by hand, so there are no machines in the plant. For another, it's all natural.
"Basically, we don't use any chemicals in our process, just ascorbic acid, which is a natural vitamin C powder," Pritchard said. "When I started to make salsa for my breakfast customers, I would make it on Monday and by Friday it was already starting to sour because I put in fresh cilantro, fresh onions and fresh jalapenos in it."
She was adamant about the use of chemicals. One important reason was the loss of her husband, Lew, who retired to make the move to Nevada and had graduated from the Carson City Beauty School in 1994 before he was diagnosed with cancer. He died at age 55.
"I was thinking to myself as I was driving down the road one day, 'OK, if I'm going to make salsa to be consumed by the public, I need to have something in there to keep it fresh.' But I didn't want to use chemicals because my husband died of kidney cancer that was caused from chemicals."
THE REST OF THE STORY
Customers from the beginning, Pritchard noted, have included Harrah's Tahoe and the Red Hut cafes on Lake Tahoe's South Shore and Carson City, and the Carson Valley Inn, among others.
Pritchard believes that guardian angel helped lead to Scolari's becoming the first grocery market chain to sell Killer Salsa.
"Talk about, 'it's meant to be,' I was only selling to mini-marts and little convenience stores, and someone told me that Scolari's was good about promoting made-in-Nevada products," she said.
"I was driving around Reno and I decided to stop at Scolari's headquarters. I walked in and said to the receptionist, 'I'd like to see the person who's in charge of refrigerated salsa.' She asked if I had an appointment; I said I didn't, and she said, 'Well, he just had a cancelation, so go right in.' I went in to talk to him and he says, 'OK, we'll give you one store in Gardnerville and see how we do.'
"They put us in produce, of all places, and so I did the demos on Saturdays and Sundays and pretty soon they gave me another one, and then another one and pretty soon we had all the Scolari's stores."
"Well, it was kind of a matter of basic survival," she said. "We've had our ups and downs, that's for sure, as any small business will tell you. This was my first adventure with being in a business and it's been crazy. It's been crazy, but a lot of fun."