When Mary Buthman started the Maria Rae’s salsa brand in 1991, she could make about 48 jars of the stuff on a good day, but 28 years later the business sells about 1,200 12-pack cases a month, she said.
What was popular in Enid became a hit elsewhere, too, across Oklahoma and in other states. Buthman isn’t actually certain of all the places where her salsa is sold.
Walmart carries it in nearly every store in the state, as well as in Missouri, Arkansas and Kansas. Every Sprouts location in Tulsa and Oklahoma City carries it, too, she said.
There are six flavors of salsa. Level 1, the original, and Level 2 and Level 3, are spicier and spiciest. Then there is Avocado Salsa Verde, Peach Salsa and Black Bean and Corn Salsa.
Buthman hadn’t ever even tried salsa until she was in high school, she said. It was a pivotal moment.
“I loved it from the moment I had it. I loved it.”
The salsa obsession grew while she was working at a Mexican restaurant in Southern California, where, after a long day of work she often would return for dinner.
After moving back to Enid with her husband, the two tried their hands in the restaurant business themselves, operating the Maria Rae’s dining establishment from 1981 to 1987, she said.
They may have stopped being restaurateurs, but Buthman decided she had to keep sharing salsa with Northwest Oklahoma.
“Every Monday through Thursday I would pack my car up with salsa and head up north, to Tonkawa, Ponca City, Blackwell and then I would start selling it in grocery stores there,” she said. “But I’d be back by three because my kids got out of school. Those were long days.”
Her timing to start the business wasn’t so great, she said, in the early ’90s salsa was the big thing, too big. It was tough to stick out from the crowd.
When she showed up to grocery stores with her car full of salsa, managers were not always happy to see her, she said.
“If you’re peddling salsa, just turn around and walk away,” they would say,” Buthman said. “I mean, I got that in every store.”
She would make them a deal, or a sort of bet, really. If she could sell seven cases worth of salsa to customers by the end of the day, they had to put her salsa on their shelves. They always doubted she could do it, she said.
“I’d always sell seven, I mean sometimes I’d sell all of them in a few hours,” she said. “It’s just the way it was.” For years that’s the way it was.
These days it’s different. One person can’t churn out enough product to meet the demand, so Backwoods Food Manufacturing in Tahlequah makes her salsa now, she said, using her recipe.
It never gets old, she said, seeing her salsa on the shelf at Jumbo Foods, or Walmart, or any of the many places that carry it.
Despite the constant exposure to salsa that comes with the job, Buthman has not lost her taste for it, her love of it, saying she eats about half a jar a day. Or at least, she never gets tired of hers, she said.
“I know people that don’t like salsa,” she said. “But they’re not related to me.”
Buthman and her brand were featured on KFOR’s “Is This a Great State or What?!” on February 1.
Story provided by Enid News & Eagle
Written by Mitchell Willetts