Blue Smoke SalsaBy: Ben Crookshanks
When I first heard the name "Blue Smoke Salsa", I pictured in my mind a cartoon character, after having eaten something extremely hot, with smoke coming out of his ears. But, the smoke in a cartoon is always black or white, never blue. "Blue" smoke just didn't fit the picture. Several years later, I found out the origin of the name.
Robin Hildebrand, creator of Blue Smoke Salsa, was one of 14 children. As children in a large family do, there was a lot of benign picking. Hildebrand chased her younger brothers and sisters with a hot pepper, threatening them with the heat of the "blue smoke" inside. Years later, when she began making salsa for sale, she remembered the "blue smoke" phrase from her childhood. Thus the name.
Not only the name, but the salsa itself was inspired by her childhood. Her family always grew a big garden and they all liked spicy food. A long time before it became popular, they were making salsa not only for themselves, but also for relatives and friends. So, her product is indeed an old family recipe.
When Hildebrand started her business in 1990, she started small. That's "small" with a very small 's'. She began producing salsa commercially in the evenings after work in a FDA approved kitchen in her basement. Slowly, but surely, things progressed. In 1993, she hired Cecilia Backus as a full-time production manager. By 1997, they had outgrown the basement and moved into a store in Ansted. In the back was a commercial kitchen and out front a gift shop selling Blue Smoke Specialties.
Blue Smoke Salsa ranges in intensity from mild to X-tra hot. The store also sells Blue Smoke Chef Sauce, Blue Smoke Pepper Jelly and Holy Smoke Hot Sauce. Hildebrand is pro-West Virginia. Not only does she sell her own products, but she also stocks salsa made by other West Virginians.
By the end of the 1990's Hildebrand was turning out between 30 and 50 thousand jars of salsa a year. Where was all the product going? More than 300 stores in West Virginia and surrounding states stocked Blue Smoke Salsa on their shelves. One of the most important venues was Tamarack. There are expatriot West Virginians all over this country and around the world. They buy Blue Smoke products for themselves and give them as gifts to their friends. Hildebrand has shipped to all 50 states and several foreign countries.
When Hildebrand moved into the Ansted location, her mother would come in at 6:00 am and prepare the vegetables for the day's run. The years finally caught up with her and she is no longer physically able to do that. Hildebrand hired her friend Ellie Martel of Fayetteville to come in and get everything ready. Along with the job, Ellie has inherited the title of "Mom".
By the time you read this, Hildebrand will have moved into another building in Ansted. With a bigger place and new equipment, she will be able to almost triple her output.
For more information call 1-800-SALSA-WV or go to their website www.wvsalsa.com.