MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — If you asked Bernie Dahlin five years ago if he thought he’d be devoting his work life to salsa, he’d say you were crazy.
“It shocks me,” the founder of Double Take Salsa said.
Dahlin had a successful career in the mortgage business. And he also had a garden that was overflowing with fresh tomatoes and habanero peppers.
“My habanero plant had 200 habaneros. I didn’t know what to do other than make salsa,” he said.
Bernie said he wanted something different. He used his great garden ingredients, but the best spices and vinegars.
“I deserve the best,” he said.
The first batch was a spicy chipotle salsa, and it was a huge hit at the mortgage office. But he didn’t think much about it until he made salsa again the next year. And the next year. And decided he might be onto something.
“People try it. It’s so good they literally give me a double take. They taste, start walking and give the look and I’m like – ‘that’s it, that’s the double take,'” he said. “Double Take. Not a bad name for a salsa company.”
He started making batches in his home kitchen and selling it at farmer’s markets. Today, Double Take Salsa is in 90 stores. Bernie doesn’t cook at home. He’s filling a south Minneapolis commercial kitchen with the smells of tomatoes and peppers.
“I haven’t been happier,” he said. “Many times I don’t feel like this is a job. I’m driving into the kitchen, I see people driving past me and I’m like… ‘Suckers! Going into work!'”
In a crowded $1 billion salsa market where low-priced Tostitos is king, Bernie borrowed a marketing technique from the craft brewing business. Instead of calling his varieties of salsa “chipotle” or “corn,” each salsa has its own name, just like craft beers have names.
Machismo is the spicy chipotle, Aces & Eights is sweet corn salsa, El Jefe is a mild smoked hatch chile salsa, Verde Good is a new green salsa, and Peachy Keen is a seasonal peach salsa.
Also like craft beer, you’ll pay more for Double Take. Retail price is around $9 a jar. Dahlin said it’s worth it.
“I decided to take time roasting vegetables, it enhances flavor. I bought a high end spice blend from Seattle that really brings out more flavor. I also use high end vinegars to enhance the flavors,” he explained.
We’ll see if mortgaging his career on salsa pays off. For now, he’s finding that customers around Minnesota are giving his salsa, a Double Take.
“I’m humbled by it every day, it just shocks me,” he said.