Peppy Pete’s Gourmet Salsa in Crosslake earns reputation with fresh ingredients

WRITTEN by CHRIS MONROE | PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF PEPPY PETE’S

Dave and Lisa Jacobson make their Peppy Pete’s Gourmet Salsa in Crosslake. The salsa is available locally and online. 

SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE — JUST ASK LISA JACOBSON. She slowly and steadily prodded husband Dave until one day he relented and, together, they started a salsa business.

“I didn’t know anything about making salsa when we started,” Dave Jacobson admits. “My background is in the wholesale lumber business. I didn’t even know what cilantro was back then.”

But Lisa, who grew up eating her parents’ special salsa recipe with its unique blend of spices, zucchini and fresh vegetables, needed a partner and Dave was a good cook.

“I just knew this was something we should do,” Lisa says. “Once Dave tasted it, I knew it was just a matter of time before he’d believe in it as much as I did.”

Dave tasted it for the first time while visiting Lisa’s family. “It was late, we were hungry and all there was in the fridge was salsa,” Dave laughs. “But when I tasted the salsa, it stopped me in my tracks.” At that time, Dave agreed only to test the concept. And for that he needed friends — lots and lots of friends.

With the recipe in hand and the desire to make the best salsa possible, Dave started making batches of salsa and sharing it with neighbors, friends, and co-workers. As the swell of positive feedback grew, Dave and Lisa explored their next steps.

There were so many people that helped the Jacobsons along the way, but two people in particular were instrumental in their success, Jill Herberg with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and Jeff Feltmann, owner of the Old Milwaukee Club in Ideal Corners.

“At the time, Jill was an inspector for the Department of Ag covering this area,” Dave says. “She helped us every step of the way.” And Jeff? “Well, we knew him pretty well,” Dave adds. “But we needed a commercial kitchen and, remarkably, Jeff let us work out of the kitchen at Old Milwaukee for next to nothing for three years”

“Jeff believed in the product, believed in us and likes to help new businesses succeed,” Dave continues. “Jill was incredibly patient, answered every question as if it was the first time she’d been asked and provided an immense amount of encouragement. We owe everything to these two people.”

“It all started with zucchini,” remembers Feltmann. “We lived next door to each other and shared a garden. You know how zucchini is — it grows and grows. I put it in my marinara sauce and lasagna. Dave was putting it in his salsa.”

“It’s really hard, with all of the rules and regulations, to start your own business, especially a food business and especially in Minnesota,” Feltmann continues. “I just gave them a helping hand when they were getting started. They were taking a big gamble.”

The first commercial batch of salsa rolled out of the Old Milwaukee kitchen on March 16, 2014. The Jacobsons started with the original recipe, a mild version, Hot Habanero and Ghost Pepper (intense heat courtesy of Bhuk Jolokia Ghost Peppers).

By July of 2014 when they set up a booth and sold their salsa at the Pequot Lakes Chamber’s Stars & Stripes Days, they were marketing five flavors. Before the first hour had elapsed, there was a line of people one hundred feet long. They opened another line and served people for a solid eight hours.

“We provided samples in two-ounce cups,” Dave says. “People would grab a sample and keep going. Before they were 30 feet away, we’d see them pause, turn around and come back to buy some. Seeing that was my tipping point,” Dave quips.

So, what is it that causes able-bodied men and women to turn on their heels when given just a two-ounce sample of Peppy Pete’s Gourmet Salsa? “The blend of spices is unique,” Lisa says. “And most salsa doesn’t contain zucchini. But honestly, it’s the fresh tomatoes. Almost every salsa sold uses canned tomatoes. Our salsa contains only fresh tomatoes. It makes all the difference.”

The Jacobsons believe in buying their ingredients locally and those fresh tomatoes come from Schafer’s Foods in Nisswa. “Schafer’s has never let us down,” Dave says. “We go through semi-trailers of tomatoes and each one is perfect.”

As their business grew, the couple explored options for canning in larger quantities. “We’ve researched co-packers (companies that would mass produce the salsa using the Jacobson’s recipe),” Dave says. “but we just can’t do it. We talked with one company that produces over sixty salsa brands. They are all made by the same twenty people. And none of them would agree to make our salsa with fresh tomatoes.”

Peppy Pete’s Gourmet Salsa comes in 12 varieties, from mild to wild, providing something for everyone. 

So, after three years churning out Peppy Pete’s Gourmet Salsa in the wee hours of the morning at the Old Milwaukee Club, the hunt was on for a home with room to build a commercial kitchen. The couple found it in Crosslake and began making salsa from the new location in the winter of 2016.

Dave’s favorite recipe is Trinidad Scorpion. It comes from the island of Trinidad and is the second hottest pepper in the world, eclipsed only by Carolina Reaper, Lisa’s favorite. “Our motto is flavor first, heat second,” Lisa says. “People who buy our salsa often thank us for not making it so hot that they can’t enjoy it.”

But the company’s most popular salsa is Cilantro Chutney. It earned the Jacobsons a blue ribbon at the 2017 Minnesota State Fair.

Why Peppy Pete’s?

“That was all Lisa,” Dave says. “We wanted the name to have a Mexican flair,” Lisa adds. “And, we wanted our logo to include our mascot, a happy tomato. Peppy Pete’s is easy to remember and, combined with the logo, describes our company perfectly.”

“It’s been so much fun,” Dave says. “If you want to start a company, even if you know nothing, apply yourself and you can do anything. It all comes down to execution and passion. It’s really the 80,000 people we’ve served that have created our recipes.”


Peppy Pete’s Gourmet Salsa 

Available in the Brainerd lakes area at:

  • Cub Foods, Brainerd and Baxter
  • Jack Pine Brewery, Baxter
  • Moonlite Bay Restaurant, Crosslake
  • Emily Meats, Emily
  • Ideal Green Market Co-op, Ideal Corners
  • Old Milwaukee Club, Ideal Corners
  • Schaefer’s Foods, Nisswa
  • SuperValu, Pequot Lakes

For more information, visit peppypetesgourmetsalsa.com.

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