Carla Gallegos-Ortega’s homemade salsas were a hit with family and friends for as long as she can remember.
In 2017, she entered the Salsa Festival in Albuquerque’s Old Town and enlisted her daughter and a few friends to help her produce 16 gallons of salsa in an outdoor tent. She left with an award and the ambition to become a food entrepreneur.
Later that year, she discovered The Mixing Bowl, a commercial kitchen that offers a food-business incubation program and hourly kitchen rental. By June 2018, Gallegos-Ortega had a license for her business, New Mexico Sabor; a health department permit; training in best practices and membership at the commercial kitchen.
She started selling her traditional salsa at local festivals, and today her four-product line is available online and at select grocers. Her original Traditional Medium Salsa and specialty Chipotle Honey Salsa each won awards from the 2020 Scovie Awards Competition.
Although she also has a full-time job, 2020 was the year Gallegos-Ortega was ready to expand New Mexico Sabor.
She applied to the New Mexico Small Business Assistance program, which helps businesses facing technical challenges obtain expert advice from two of the state’s national laboratories. Technical assistance from New Mexico Manufacturing Extension Partnership and several New Mexico universities is offered through cooperative agreements with the labs.
Gallegos-Ortega’s business won a grant to work with New Mexico MEP on improving control of her inventory and designing a facility to make production less complicated.
New Mexico MEP Innovation Director Jeff Abrams observed Gallegos-Ortega at work in her rented kitchen so he could help develop an inventory control plan and visualize the layout of her own commercial kitchen. His observations led to immediate changes.
In the past, canned ingredients were handled multiple times. After ingredients were added to the kettle, cans were set aside to be cleaned for recycling.
“Jeff said no, no, no, we should only be touching those cans once,” Gallegos-Ortega said.
Abrams also showed her how to eliminate the multiple steps involved with transferring salsa from the kettle to jars.
“We have less repetition; the first time we put it into practice, we probably cut off an hour of time,” she said. “It cut (costs) in three areas: employee time, kitchen time and equipment rental.”
Abrams created a simple spreadsheet to track inventory for each recipe to minimize the cash needed for inventory and storage space at the kitchen. Other little changes have also saved kitchen time: defrosting frozen ingredients the night before production and streamlining cleanup by hand-washing large containers instead of repeatedly running them through the dishwasher.
That training will pay off when Gallegos-Ortega finds a space of her own.
“He showed me that it is a possibility for me to get my own place,” Gallegos-Ortega said. “I didn’t know how much space I would need, but it’s only 900 to 1,000 square feet.”
For more information about New Mexico MEP and the NMSBA program, visit newmexicomep.org and
nmsbaprogram.org. New Mexico Sabor salsa can be found at newmexicosabor.com.
(Holly Bradshaw-Eakes and Sandy Nelson work for the Finance New Mexico project. The project connects individuals and businesses with skills and funding resources for their business or idea. To learn more, go to FinanceNewMexico.org.)