The Spice is Right

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:10

    It’s not often that Manhattan is referred to as mild, but for Rob Bowman and Matt Burns, the borough just lacks a little bit of flavor.

    That could be why the duo, who helm the Bushwick-based Brooklyn Salsa Company, named their mixture of tomatoes, mangos, fire-roasted red peppers, Ajicito and jalapeno peppers—the least fiery in their arsenal—after the island.

    “I’ve been combining random mixtures of fruits and vegetables for 10 years now, and just by pure magical luck have they come out delicious,” says Burns, the creative taste operator of the company. “Once I met Rob, I saw an opportunity and started developing the idea of doing one salsa for each borough of New York. We’ve found a way to jar the eclectic lifestyle that Brooklyn and New York represent to the whole world.”

    Bowman and Burns met a year and a half ago through Craigslist—Bowman was seeking a roommate—and, using Burns’ experience from a prep-cook job at a South Dakota Mexican joint, decided to go into business together last April.

    “Our salsas represent a certain kind of lifestyle; that vibrant eclectic life of New York City,” says Burns, who, in his off hours, is a classically trained actor with an upcoming appearance on Gossip Girl.

    While up until now the boys have worked locally, sponsoring parties and relying on dedicated neighbors to stay in business, they’re currently negotiating with a natural grocery store—they won’t say which one—and are hoping to have their product on shelves by early 2009. (Currently, the product can be bought at

    In addition to ironing out deals with potential grocery store partners, the company is in the process of teaming up with local farms for all its produce and fruit needs. It’s also working out the kinks to perfect the long-term preservation of its ordinarily fresh product. “We’re trying to figure out how to turn these fresh recipes into jarred recipes, we’re really prepared to make these flavors perfect,” says Burns. “We’re not going to settle for ridiculous preservatives. We want the most natural, flavorful stuff on the market.” In the meantime, the Brooklyn Salsa Company has been taste-testing recipes with a loyal group of friends, making sure that flavors like Brooklyn (the spiciest of the bunch, with fresh tomatoes, mango, roasted red peppers, garlic infused Jamaican peppers, lime juice and sea salt) and Queens (a tropical mix of pineapple, coconut and red onions) continue to receive rave reviews from their gastronomical guinea pigs. The Salsa Company also attempts to appeal to more peculiar taste buds through the Bronx flavor, which has a “burnt” taste and an eggplant base, and the far-flung Staten Island flavor, a salsa verde with a base of tomatillo, jalapeño peppers and cilantro.

    So far, the guys report to have never received negative feedback. They say that the uniqueness of their products is the secret to their success, and locals agree.

    “It’s delicious! Brooklyn is definitely my favorite flavor; it’s the hottest [flavor] and Brooklyn is the best borough in New York City, obviously, so that’s why I like that one the best,” says Nick Adamski, a neighbor who’s hooked on the sauce. But, it’s not just the innovative concoctions coming out of their kitchen that have the boys’ Bushwick neighbors clamoring for the mouth-watering dips, established foodies have also taken a shine to the idea.

    “The salsas seem to be innovative,” says Juventino Avila, the chef at Bonita, a Mexican restaurant with branches in Fort Greene and Williamsburg. He does worry, though, that an aversion to using additives or preservatives may limit the brand’s ability to land in grocery-store shelves.

    Even in the face of such obstacles, though, Burns and Bowman are confident that you’ll be seeing their products on shelves in no time.

    “We’re really crossing taste genres with these salsas,” says Burns. “There’s nothing like them on the market. We’re positive and competent that we’ll be able to pass into a market that Mexican food hasn’t been welcome in.”

    No matter how hot things get in the kitchen, though, both Burns and Bowman say that they’re dedicated to building their house of hot sauce. “Matt and I, no matter what, were friends and roommates first,” Bowman says. Burns quickly adds, “It’s not just a business partnership, we’re creating our lives. We both came to the city to pursue our dreams in the biggest way possible. I feel like that’s what everyone is doing.”

    While the pair continues working toward the big time—they’re still mixing their product in their kitchen—they’re so confident that soon enough Brooklyn Salsa will bring them the whole enchilada that they’re already easing up on the pedal-to-the-metal tactics that have brought them this far.

    “The farthest I’ve traveled to deliver salsa was to the Upper West Side,” says Bowman. “We don’t intend on doing that anymore.”