Texas Native Puts Oregon Spin on Salsa
The Oregonian - Victoria Edwards
One glance at Gary Hazelwood and his chili pepper print shirt, and you know what he's about.
The native Texan sells salsa. His shirt, covered in red and green peppers and the occasional blossoming
flower, makes people passing his set-up in a grocery store feel comfortable, he said. The gentle Texas drawl
lets them know the salsa is authentic, and the taste speaks for itself.
Hazelwood recently brought his passion for, as he likes to call it, the country's best-selling condiment, to
the Portland area. He moved to Happy Valley in July to be closer to grandchildren who live in the area.
It's the same salsa he's been selling in Texas grocery stores for the past few years, but with a
manufacturing plant in Lake Oswego now churning out his four salsas -- among them the signature
and award-winning smoky sweet salsa -- Hazelwood is now tailoring his labeling to Oregon.
An outline of the state now graces the label with the signature "made in Oregon" note, as does a mention that it's gluten free. "Texas is known for its salsa and barbecue, and Texans have a lot of pride with that, but Oregonians have a lot of pride, too, so I wanted to make sure I was showing I support Portland and Oregon.
Salsa wasn't always Hazelwood's business, but after losing his job in 2001 as an executive at a construction company the idea started to take root. Despite thriving as a sales director for a health insurance company after that, Hazelwood said he'd always wanted to own his own business. Salsa was the way to do that.
His first batch was produced in 2009. While he hadn't actually sold any of the jars yet, Hazelwood decided to enter it into the competition at theNational Fiery Foods and Barbecue show a few months in Albuquerque, N.M. Up against salsa giants including Pace and dozens more local and national brands,
Hazelwood wasn't expecting a prize.
He took third place in the unique processed salsa category.
Working off that momentum, Hazelwood cultivated a loyal following at the farmers market in Rockwall, a suburb
where he lived outside of Dallas, and eventually persuaded a manager to stock it at the local Kroger-owned store.
Today Hazelwood said, it's sold in a couple hundred Kroger stores in Texas and Louisiana.
"So now I'm here trying to do the same thing," he said.
Want to try it?
Hazelwood's salsa is sold online and at the following stores:
Morrow Brothers Produce in Happy Valley
Beaumont Market in Northeast Portland
Cherry Sprout Produce in North Portland
Sheridan Fruit Company in Southeast Portland
Lamb's Markets around the Portland metro area
Hazelwood's gained traction with the help of local blogger and tax professor Jack Bogdanski, who featured the salsa on his blog after trying it at a local store. Soon after, KPAM radio host Bob Miller passed a jar around on the air.
Nancy LeClaire, the manager at Morrow Brothers Produce in Happy Valley, said Hazelwood's salsa stands out from other locally made salsa the market carries purely because of its flavors. "They've got a great natural flavor," she said. "With a lot of salsas you might taste one of the vegetables more than the others, like tomato. With his, you can taste all of the different vegetables."
LeClaire said the store practically sells out of the salsa every week or so, with customers often buying two or three jars.
Hazelwood said he'll start selling the salsa at more stores in the coming months
"I wasn't sure if people in Portland would like Texas-style salsa when I moved here," he said. "So far, it's really been a dream come true."
Salsa is 'Smokey Sweet' Success
The Dallas Morning News - Dawn Redig
Each year, top culinary experts sample hundreds of the world’s most lauded fiery foods, honoring the best-tasting products with a coveted Scovie Award.
Hazelwood’s Foods, owned by Gary Hazelwood, earned the 2010 bronze medal in the specialty salsa category.
“Our 2010 winners represent some of the largest companies in the industry,such as Pace Foods, Buffalo Wild Wings and Garden Fresh Salsa, as well as start-up companies. The common factor is their commitment to excellence and the real quality of the products they produce,” said Dave DeWitt, creator of the award.
DeWitt is the founder of the National Fiery Foods and Barbecue Show, where Hazelwood entered his signature product in a competition last July.
“My business is expanding on a daily basis as more people try my products and become repeat customers,” Hazelwood said. “People are enthusiastic about supporting local businesses and I appreciate every person who has purchased my products and recommended them to their friends.”
The Scovie Award is named for Wilbur Scoville, who pioneered a rating scale for spicy foods. Hazelwood’s salsa is now among the “cream of the crop in fiery foods products,” according to DeWitt.
Hazelwood’s products are manufactured in Texas. Call 214-793-7810 or visit HazelwoodsFoods.com for a list of retail locations carrying his products.
KNOW YOUR NEIGHBOR
Alma Mater: BA from Dallas Baptist University; MBA from University of Phoenix
Occupation: After 30 years of working in the construction supply industry, Hazelwood can now be found promoting his food products at local grocery stores and Farmers Market. “The thing I like most about my salsa business is getting to meet many of the nice people who buy my products. I am very grateful to John Pierce, manager of the Rockwall Kroger. He was my first major customer and was willing to give my products a shot.”
Family: Gary and his wife, Cheri, a Registered Nurse, together have three grown children and six grandchildren.
Passion: Gary’s passion is for his family; he loves spending time with his grandkids. “If my wife and I had known that grandchildren were so much fun, we would have had them first!”
Hobbies: Golf tops Gary’s list. “I love golf and I love being around other golfers. I think that golfers are some of the finest people I have ever met.”
Other achievements: After high school, Gary joined the Air Force and was deployed to Germany and later to Vietnam, where he earned the Commendation Medal. He also sang with the world champion Vocal Majority Men’s Chorus.
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