Most people don’t wear a crown to work, but Maharba Zapata is not most people. Though she is approaching the two-year anniversary of her wildly successful company, Salsa Queen, she hasn’t lost any enthusiasm for her brand, and frequently travels to local stores in her Salsa Queen-wrapped truck. Sporting not only her crown but also a matching apron, she offers samples of her signature pico, red chili, roasted tomatillo, and other salsa and dip varieties to customers.
Maharba’s team of 20 employees, along with her son and her friend, produce salsa three to four times as week, delivering batches to Smith’s, Macy’s, Dan’s, and more within one or two days. “Everything is very, very fresh,” Maharba says. “That is so important.”
Looking at this colorfully dressed, self-styled businessperson, salsa samplers might never guess that she’s ever had any shortage of confidence. However, like one of the onions essential to her products’ flavors, Maharba has many layers. As a teenager, she moved to the U.S. from Mexico and was married shortly after graduating. Years later, she fought bouts of depression after two divorces. With no education beyond high school and no work experience, she felt helpless to take care of her seven children.
In 2015, Maharba was finally happy, in love with her current husband; but this is no Cinderella story. “Even though I was married, I did not want to ever be in a position to rely on a man ever again,” she said. “But I didn’t what I could do without higher education and experience.” Luckily, her husband did not see these as barriers to her success. “He asked me, ‘What do you want to do?’ No one had ever asked me that before. When I said I wanted to make salsa, he just said, ‘okay.’”
With a steady support system in place, Maharba and her children embarked on this new adventure together, and found themselves at their very first farmers market at Wheeler Farm within a few weeks. Though Maharba had grown up cooking delicacies from her native culture, and knew her salsa was top quality, she was happy, as novice businessperson, to take advice from her friend and mentor, Jorge Fierro of Rico Brands.
“Jorge told me I should bring about 50 jars to my first farmers market because most people don’t sell very many things, if any, at their first one. I decided to bring 100, just in case, and we ended up selling out in the first two hours!”
From there, Maharba went on to convince Smith’s to carry her Salsa at eight of their stores to start. “What I always thought were my weaknesses, like stubbornness, were actually what made me successful.”
Salsa Queen salsas and dips can now be found in stores across the state, and Maharba has no intention of slowing down. “My dream is not only to create a quality product, but to inspire others, especially women, to follow their ambitions, no matter what.”
To find a Salsa Queen carrier near you or to find out when Maharba will next appear on a locally televised cooking segment, visit www.salsaqueen.rocks.