Business

Pulling together for the little guy could make hometown fav Maria’s Comida a Big Deal

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Fresh. Spicy. Extraordinary. All adjectives befitting Hamtramck’s Maria’s Comida. And, if we all get involved, the coveted “nationally distributed” could be added to that list.

The Little Restaurant that Could is in the running to “get on the shelf” at one of the world’s largest retail chains. And if anybody seems to have the guts and the fiery temperament to take on such a challenge, it is Maria Pronko, one of the restaurant’s founders and co-owners.

Retail titan Walmart created the “Get on the Shelf” program as a way to get customers involved in selecting products they’d like to see on Walmart.com and in Walmart stores.

The first round of voting takes place March 7-April 4. The Top 10 products will compete in a second round April 11-24. The grand prize winner will have a chance to get their product featured on the Walmart.com home page, newsletter and Walmart store shelves. The winner will also receive marketing support and advice on scaling up production from Walmart. There are no guarantees that you’ll end up going nationwide, but that is possible.

The Pronkos will compete with about 4,000 entrants. Entries range from a fancy high chair with an attached vacuum to nutty gym clothing to ingrown hair prevention products (ugh). Having so many entrepreneurs on the make might seem intimidating to some. But not to Maria. Although she doesn’t know where this adventure will go, she’s more than willing to take the ride.

“This is something that our company is gearing up for – we want to share our products,” Maria said.

“We want to take that next step with our salsa. And this is an opportunity to build our brand, to gain exposure and to network,” Maria said. “It’s all about getting the right attention.”

Maria said the restaurant staff heard about the contest from one of the employees, who saw it advertised on the Yahoo! home page. A few clicks later, and Maria’s Comida was on the list of potential vendors. What’s a little competition among 3,999 others vying for a spot in Walmart’s busy aisles?

“I think we deserve it as much as anybody else,” she said.

Maria laughed a little when I mention Walmart’s less-than-stellar reputation within the business community. It is widely known how tough tough the corporation can be on its vendors, demanding lower and lower prices in exchange for shelf space. That doesn’t seem to intimate her – a sign that she might be ready for the Big Show.

The smart folks at Walmart are getting something pretty great here as well – exposure to some of the best up-and-coming products in America. So two snaps for them. And the company also reminds their buyers that their jobs are hardly sacred – anyone could find their way onto Walmart’s shelves if they have the moxie to get there. That’s very Walmart-y as well…making something out of nothing. After all, you don’t kill Kmart without having some serious skills.

Some background on Maria’s Comida: The Pronko family opened in Hamtramck in 2008. From the start, customers fell in love with their salsa. Each of the four Maria’s House Made Salsa recipes is made with fresh Roma tomatoes, onions and cilantro.

Chef (and everybody’s dad) Al Pronko roasts the corn for the Black Bean with Roasted Corn Salsa. He also roasts the habanero peppers for the Roasted Habanero and Roasted Habanero with Mango salsas. After Maria’s Comida launched its Mexican-Asian fusion menu in September 2010, they added Maria’s House Made Barbecue Sauce that is used on the Asian Baby Back Ribs and Asian Barbecue Chicken Pizza.

Maria’s Comida isn’t new to selling its salsas; for the past two years, it has had its products on the shelves in 18 stores in the Detroit and Toledo areas.

You can vote twice a day – once via Facebook and a second time through text. If we all pull together on this one – and use up our text plans as we should – then this hometown favorite could stand a chance at greatness. And they deserve that chance.

“We appreciate the opportunity to feature our products and we are looking forward to a positive outcome,” Maria said.

Spoken like a true champion.

(And if you want to try the salsa for yourself, I highly recommend you get thee to Maria’s Comida at 11411 Jos. Campau in Hamtramck in a hurry.)

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