MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — When you have lemons, you make lemonade. When you have a garden full of tomatoes, you make salsa … lots of salsa.
Lisa Nicholson first lugged 120 cans of the homemade stuff to the Farmer’s Market. When a vendor didn’t show, she got in.
That’s how Salsa Lisa was born. Now you can find it almost everywhere, which makes Lisa Nicholson a Minnesotan to Meet.
In her warehouse, it’s easy to kid: “There’s a lot of salsa in here, Lisa!” Jokes aside, Salsa Lisa is how most have known the petite blonde since 1990. You could say going to class at the University of Minnesota was Nicholson’s first career.
“It actually started in my backyard garden when I was in college,” Nicholson said. “I went to Carlson School of Management, then took some time off and then managed a bar. I was in architecture school for a while. I got a minor in econ and French.”
Then, as a 30-year-old law student, Nicholson grew one too many tomatoes and had one too many parties that included salsa, where everyone told her to sell it.
“I’d be studying for finals and I would look down at my notes and there would be doodlings and the label and I was like this is something I have to do,” Nicholson said.
She did pass the bar exam, but her summers weren’t spent clerking or interning but fighting for a spot at the Minneapolis Farmers Market.
“I sold out of salsa in an hour and a half,” she said. “All my salsa was gone and I thought, I need to make more salsa.”
The law background came in handy reading contracts when she started selling mild/medium and hot salsa in Twin Cities co-ops. But she won’t share the recipe.
“No, no, that’s the attorney in me,” she said.
Now, with more stores and having had three babies, she says she has been keeping a balance between Salsa Lisa and “Momma Lisa,” but to do so she had to expand her original team.
“It was just me and my mom,” she said.
The company has moved three times. Salsa Lisa just moved into a production space in St. Paul. They still hand core tomatoes every Tuesday — 200 gallons, mixed and batched by hand.
“By the end of the week, all the salsa is packaged, put on pallets and set up on the trucks. Then we start all over on Monday,” she said.
Two flavors have since turned into six, including roasted chipotle and pineapple ginger. And you can expect more still.
The salsa keeps winning awards, even in traditional places like New Mexico. It can be found in 15 states, including every major grocery store in the Twin Cities, even Costco and Super Target.
A new partnership with the biggest Avocado producer in the country, Calavo, could mean even bigger things, something Salsa Lisa has always dreamed about.
“I never wanted it to be a boutique item you picked up every once in a while,” Nicholson said. “I wanted it in your cart every single week.”
Aside from making salsa and raising kids, Nicholson actually loves to play hockey, and plays two or three times a week.