Interview with Maharba Zapata: The “Salsa Queen”
Maharba Zapata has been on an incredible journey for the last five years. But, her adventures started long before that.
She immigrated to the United States from Mexico as a teenager and did not speak any English, but that did not hold this determined lady back. With no work experience or even a high school education, she decided to start a new chapter in her life.
Zapata started Salsa Queen as a single mother to provide for her seven children. The company is the leading local provider of fresh, gourmet salsas carried in more than 100 grocery stores in Utah, and the company recently expanded into Boise, Idaho.
Her team produces and delivers salsas daily for the freshest possible products. Salsa Queen is in Smith’s, Harmons, Dan’s, Macey’s, Fresh Market and many other locations.
When she is not overseeing business operations, Zapata enjoys visiting local stores in her Salsa Queen-wrapped truck outfitted in matching apron and crown. She is also a regular on local TV stations where she shows how to use her gourmet salsas and dips to make simple, fast and tasty meals.
What started as a way to provide for her family, this entrepreneur’s dream is now helping 50 others provide for their families as well.
How did you get started in the industry?
I have always been passionate about food and cooking. I first tested the waters by offering salsas to friends and family on Facebook. We spent Saturdays driving around the valley, delivering salsa, and then I started selling at farmers’ markets. The markets were a lot of work, but I loved being there!
My seven children and I prepared and packaged the salsas the day before. Then I would load up the truck with the salsas, table, tent, coolers and ice.
The markets were invaluable because I tested different products and recipes to find my top-sellers. I enjoyed meeting our supporters and hearing their stories; it gave me an incredible feeling of accomplishment.
What recent professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
Expanding into Boise has been a significant step in helping our team learn best practices, so we can continue to grow and expand in other markets.
Creating a board of directors will take the company to the next level and has been important to our growth. The board members bring valuable insights into what we need to accomplish to make Salsa Queen into a larger regional provider of high-quality gourmet salsas.
What drew you to Utah?
My parents moved to Utah from Mexico because they wanted a better life for their children. I always dreamed of living in the United States, so I knew I would live here sooner or later.
What do you like most about living in Utah?
I love the mountains, especially Mt. Olympus. Downtown Salt Lake City has so much to do and is safe, fun and clean. I love it.
The state has a lot of diversity and beauty from Lake Powell to Cache Valley. It is truly amazing. Every time I travel out of state, I am so happy to come home to Utah. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
What do you like most about doing business in Utah?
The quality of people and employees is off the chart, and the community is very supportive and welcoming of local businesses. As a woman and a minority, people go out of their way to help me, give me advice and connect me with others to help grow Salsa Queen.
What advice do you have for individuals considering starting a business, or relocating their business, to Utah?
Ask for help. It might be difficult to ask for help, but you will be pleasantly surprised at the available resources entrepreneurs have.
Learn from others. Find mentors, groups and organizations that can help you ask the right questions.
What is your primary challenge of doing business in Utah?
We manufacture salsas year-round, so getting a consistent supply of fresh, reasonably priced produce can be a challenge. We are heavily dependent on California and Mexico, so any disruptions or bad weather can impact our costs significantly.
What is your business philosophy?
Be bold, and don’t take no for an answer. I priced Salsa Queen to be a premium, gourmet product instead of a cheap salsa and know my customers appreciate a high-quality product.
My stubbornness is my biggest strength. I found my passion and don’t compromise my integrity by adding fillers or preservatives to make more money.
Tell me a fun fact about myself.
Salsa Queen has given me a life I never dreamed of, so in honor, I legally changed my name to ‘Salsa Queen.’
What has been your biggest tragedy?
My first child passed away from leukemia at the age of 19 months, and I lived at Primary Children’s Hospital, which is where I learned English. Fortunately, I am blessed with seven other children, but he is a constant reminder.
In Mexico, the sugar skull represents a holiday: Day of the Dead. On Nov. 2 we believe our ancestors come back to visit, so we prepare a huge feast of their favorite foods and drinks as a way to remember them. When I started Salsa Queen, it was only natural to have the sugar skull be our company logo since it reminded me of my first child. He is never far away from my heart.
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