We had the pleasure of connecting with the Co-Founders of BK Salsa, Matt Burns and Rob Behnke, where we talked about everything from social business and conscious methods to what it takes to make a damn good organic salsa that’s been called “the closest you can get to homemade” by Martha Stewart Whole Living.
Conscious Connection: Give me the lowdown on the Brooklyn Salsa Company.
Matt Burns: The Brooklyn Salsa Company was born in a Bushwick loft in the early summer of 2008, originally operating as an underground taco delivery service. In 2010 we took our DIY roots to the jar, blending Small Batch salsa with CONSCIOUS METHODS—Direct Trade with Local Source, Organic Farmers. The meticulous selection of our ingredients is based on the climate, the health of the soil they’re grown in, the people that grow them, and the explosive flavor of each tomato, pepper, onion, and stalk of cilantro we use.
Rob Behnke: Over 100 different varietals of New York State, Certified Organic Heirloom tomatoes, tomatillos, hot peppers, cilantro, eggplant, onion and garlic go into our jars – and every lid is sealed by hand. We use no artificial preservatives, only fresh Lime Juice. For other tropical ingredients like the fresh oranges, mangoes and coconuts we need help from our friends a little closer to the equator. Here we’ve designated funds to aid cooperative farmland in places that could use a helping hand and are taking strides towards carbon neutrality. We’ve also teamed up with community gardeners, local CSA’s, and public schools to transform the rooftops, compostable landfills, backyards, empty lots, cement parks and rough kept streets of NYC into a living, breathing, urban farm.
Conscious Connection: Really inspiring – how did this all get started?
Matt Burns: Taking it way back to 8th grade, I had a job as a dishwasher and prep-cook in a little taqueria in South Dakota where I grew up. I was already vegan, something practically unheard of in SD at the time, and figured out that salsa was something which had a lot of freedom to it. It immediately became my major food group, making salsa sauces with whatever I had. I would make gazpacho salsas, stewed salsas and fresh salsas with every vegetable and fruit I could find in season from our local co-op. When Rob and I became roommates in Brooklyn at the end of 2007 and I was still making it every day.
Rob Behnke: We both grew up playing music and became friends going to shows in the underground scene coming to life in Bushwick. He’d just finished his MBA and was working on Park Ave selling ad-space and doing music promotion when we started sharing a loft. BK Salsa then began evolving out of our friendship. We had a shared belief that packaged foods could be done differently, on a more historic level of purity which could be more flavorful and life giving than the majority of offerings on grocery store shelves today. During the first few months while we were developing our flavors and branding we ran it as a late night, vegan/organic taco delivery service. We starting going on field hunts and built relationships with farms around New York. Then we just figured out the jarring process and went for it. At the start we had commitments from maybe five small shops in the hood and we’ve just built the force step by step from there.
Conscious Connection: So what exactly goes into making a kick ass food product like Brooklyn Salsa?
Matt Burns: For us it’s about source and simplicity. Everything starts at the farm. We don’t use preservatives – our jars are made to be opened and devoured. It’s about keeping it minimal and drawing out the flavor of the fresh ingredients we mash into the jars. We don’t even use vinegar – just fresh lime juice and lots of it. Flavor is key – the best salsa has to taste great, and be focused and fresh. We build our flavors off global culture, and spin classic sauce recipes from all over the world into new generation salsa. Beyond the flavor and farm, it’s about the way a business operates in the world – and that’s where our Conscious Methods come into play. Other food companies are starting to come around, but I can’t believe the food industry went so far off track. It’s time to steer it back.
Conscious Connection: I totally agree – tell me more about your Conscious Methods.
Matt Burns: The Brooklyn Salsa Company uses Conscious Methods, which is our promise to constantly evolve, push boundaries, give back and expose the voices and new methods we believe in. We created Conscious Methods to build our company in ways that can serve the world in more ways than with just a great product. Direct Trade, Local Source and Organic Farmers is at the heart of Conscious Methods – and this year, as we expand nationally and internationally, Carbon Neutrality is something we’re extremely focused on.
Rob Behnke: We are passionate about taking responsibility for what we create and grow as well as the relationships we keep and the footprint we leave behind. We’re also committed to education and have been working with New York’s Health Corps and Family Cook Productions over the last two years to educate inner city students on the benefits of eating local organic, planting gardens and cooking at home. We recently jarred a salsa called THE KIDS with a group of students from West Side High in Manhattan, in which they learnt the whole process from start to finish – from the fundamentals of growing and harvesting to preparation, kitchen skills and preserving. This summer they’re going to learn how to market and sell an item of their own in local NYC markets.
We also source ingredients from rooftop farms in NYC, next generation start-up farms, 7thgeneration organic farms, cooperative tropical farms and even cooperative community gardens! What we call SALSA POWER is a state of existence that includes a constant blending and infusing of potent ingredients and knowledge into your lifestyle and our collective efforts – creating a mix and way of doing things that shines light on the world. We are a new generation of Salsa makers inspiring global flavor, with local, sustainable ingredients. Conscious Methods is about thinking global, and acting local.
Conscious Connection:Love it – tell me about the inspiration behind the different flavors for the different boroughs of New York.
Matt Burns: We launched The Brooklyn Salsa Company with 5 flavors for the 5 boroughs of New York, as a representation of the global vibrancy of our city. Now, as we expand our efforts, that branding has become global. The Pure was originally named for Manhattan simply because it is the starting point. Outsiders think of New York as skyscrapers and Times Square, so we wanted a flavor for Manhattan that was a launchpad towards the rest of what the city, and BK Salsa, has to offer – getting more exciting the further out you push it.
Rob Behnke: It has the effect of salsas people may have tried before, but brings a more powerful flavor and electricity – and sets the standard for our line of next level Salsa Sauce. The Pure is transitioning now into MEXICO CITY, because in reality our recipe is a shout out to the street carts and taquerias of that global melting pot. The Curry launched as The Bronx, but now we’re transitioning it into MUMBAI – the city where curry spices and dishes know no limits. The Green, named for Staten Island, is becoming San Francisco – that dream green city of lefties we love. The Tropical, our homage to Queens and some epic supper club dining experiences we shared when we first got to NYC is now HAVANA – the city smiles, old cars, and a distinct urban tropics vibe that is just right for the flavor. Brooklyn – THE HOT – stays just where it’s at. After all, we are The Brooklyn Salsa Company.
Conscious Connection: What’s your favorite flavor and why?
Matt Burns: As Creative Taste Operator of BK Salsa, my personal favorite is The Curry. There isn’t another salsa like it and I’m proud that it’s reached so many plates since we launched. The Malaysian Curry blend I chose for this flavor has potent levels of turmeric and we use some pretty extreme varietals of eggplant that achieve the thick, smooth texture of the jar. It couldn’t have turned out better.
Conscious Connection: Any tips for other aspiring social entrepreneurs and where can we get our hands on some salsa?
Matt Burns & Rob Behnke: Just begin. We are the new generation, we’re the next in line, and we have the responsibility. The future is in our hands now. Please join us. Be brave. Make something. This summer our product will be appearing all over the country. If you don’t see it in your grocery store already, ask a manager to order it in for you. You can also have it shipped to your doorstep from bksalsa.com. And one more thing: TAKE THE LID OFF!