By Maureen McDonald, The WEIGH/Neighborhood News Hub
Browse the isles of various specialty stores in and around Detroit and you’ll find Mason jars bearing a brand new, made in Detroit product, Mrs. Pruitt’s Cha Cha Gourmet Salsa. On testing days you’ll meet the purveyor, Linda K. Williams.
As CEO of Fall Harvest Urban Farms LLC, she coordinates the purchase, manufacturing and distribution of a family recipe dating back to the early 1860s in South Carolina. She hopes to get her secret salsa blend into 25 stores this year and in 50 stores by 2016
“This is an old, backwoods recipe,” Williams says. “My ancestors were slaves. When they weren’t in the field picking cotton or gathering vegetables, they picked-up scraps including cabbage leaves, tomatoes, peppers and onions. They called it chow-chow or cha-cha because nothing went to waste. With spices, it tasted delicious.”
For many decades, her family has enjoyed its spicy salsa on pinto beans, collard greens and cornbread, blended into the dishes or served as a condiment. They grew their vegetables, harvested them and canned them to last through the long winter.
Williams sees the salsa as a gluten-free, low-cal sauce that could flavor eggs, fish tacos and veggie burgers, helping herself and her family cut down on their meat intake. Friends and family encouraged her to make a business out of her cherished recipe.
“Thanks to the Build Institute, my dream became a real business,” Williams says. “I learned you can never completely finish your business plan ─ our business is evolving every day!”
She has three master’s degrees ─ in digital impairment teaching, guidance and counseling and rehabilitation counseling ─ and works a day job as a counselor. But she wanted something sustainable for herself and her community.
“So many people I know suffer from heart disease and diabetes,” she says. “If I can help someone live healthier by making vegetables taste better, I’ve done something right.”
Williams was one of the first Build Institute graduates and also did training with FoodLab Detroit.
“She was a joy to have around,” says Jessica Meyer, editor of the FoodLab newsletter. “She put a lot of time and thought into her product, especially into her ‘elevator pitch.’”
Williams prides herself on using locally-grown vegetables and a Michigan manufacturer who processes and bottles the salsa. Her goal is to expand the business so it’s large enough to have a greenhouse to grow the vegetables and a large staff of young people who could learn business skills by marketing, distributing and selling her product. Others would learn agriculture.
Meanwhile, Williams continues to take classes at the Build Institute in Detroit, learning social media, collaboration, legal structure and target marketing. Through her contacts, she became a Tuesday vendor at Eastern Market throughout the summer and fall.
For more information on Mrs. Pruitt’s Cha Cha Gourmet Salsa, visit www.mrspruittschachasalsa.com.
– This blog originally appeared in a new publication, The WEIGH/Neighborhood News Hub. Detroit Unspun is a partner in that venture.