Visiting Hope & Main in Warren is always an adventure. But this time, we are going to check out Kane’s Salsa. As we descend into the basement of the building, Debbie our Specialty Food Manager and Matt our Communications Manager in tow, I can’t help but wonder what an interesting setting we are in. As we walk past white brick walls and turn into the kitchen, it feels like we enter another world. Although located in the basement, the kitchen is full of bright natural light and two guys hustling away.
Debbie and Matt immediately step forward and shake hands with Trafford, the owner of the company, and his kitchen employee Jonathan. The introductions go around, and Trafford is excited to get started.
He asks how long we are willing to stay, and we smile and say as long as it takes to make the salsa. So off Trafford goes.
The first thing I notice is the gigantic (and I mean gigantic) kettle of diced tomatoes to my right which smells so delicious that my stomach growls instantly.
We start chatting away, and I can tell right off the bat that Trafford is a really cool guy. He has this energy about him that can only be described as someone who drank a lot of coffee and can’t be stopped. He chops grilled pineapple so fast that I am concerned for his fingers.
I ask him what made him get into salsa, and he just smiles, takes a deep breath, and tells us a really precious story:
“My oldest daughter has Down Syndrome, and there are a lot of people involved in her care at school. We would get the teachers small gifts to say thank you at the end of the school year. So we started making the salsa. Year after year, they started looking forward to it,” he cocked an eyebrow and smirked a little, “and then the teachers that knew they were getting our kids were like ‘oh I hope we get the Kane kids so we can get some salsa’” he says, chuckling.
His hands are still moving at lightening speed across the cutting board, carefully trimming off the pineapple skin and dicing the juicy pieces with expertise. I can tell he had some training, there is no way I could cut a pineapple that beautifully. As he is trimming off some particularly yummy looking charred skin, I ask how he went from giving teachers salsa to producing it full time, and he says:
“I never, ever, ever, ever thought much about it. And last year my parents were retiring from the restaurant business and they were willing to give me the restaurant, but I didn’t want it so I decided I wanted to start making the salsa. It was all very organic how this came about, never in a million years did I think it would get to this point. It’s just been crazy”. Funny how life can take a turn in such a short amount of time.
Trafford is now jumping between cutting pineapple, and checking the very delicious smelling jalapeños which appear to be roasting to perfection in an oven nearby.
Kane’s salsa is already in 45 stores, and he estimates that he’s made over 10,000 jars of salsa since he started. The awe while he talks about it is still apparent in his voice. You can tell he is truly thankful to be doing so well, so quickly.
He mentions that his wife has been really helpful during the settling period, “my wife helps when she can, but she’s had to pick up extra hours at work to pick up the bills”. It’s really cool to see how his family has been helping him achieve a passion project like this.
We start talking about other small, local companies that we carry, and Trafford says something that really shows his amazing outlook towards the business, “I know it’s a competitive market, but there’s always room for one more. That’s how I feel”. His down-to-earth attitude is inspiring to see in an industry that can be so overwhelming to those starting out for the first time.
Trafford’s eyes light up as he talks about his experience over the years that led him to working on salsa, “I went to school for civil engineering. But I grew up in restaurants. I was 11 years old giving out bread at banquets. And by Junior year of college my parents opened Marguerites, but I hated school. I didn’t like doing homework. So I went to work for them, but I always knew I would end up doing something with food. I just didn’t know what.”
As Trafford works away, measuring out cumin powder, salt, vinegar, and other various ingredients, he jokes about looking good for the camera and keeps making us laugh. We have never worked with someone so willing to make the shots as cool as possible.
As Matt sets up for a video recording, Trafford says “at least I can try to look pretty for the camera” and then jokes, “watch me put way too much of something in because I’m talking too much”. But hey, at least we get the shot, right?
Going on hour two of watching Trafford run back and forth between cutting pineapple, checking the roasted jalapeños, and measuring out ingredients, the jalapeños are finally done, and boy do they look and smell amazing.
As Trafford goes back to dicing (there’s really a lot of pineapple in this salsa), Matt jokes that if he doesn’t get a good shot of him cutting pineapple he’s going to retire, and Trafford laughs.
I ask Trafford what it was like doing this at the beginning, and he says “I remember my first time doing this was hard, and I remember after a particularly stressful day I was like what am I getting myself into?”
I wish there was a way for you to smell these pictures, but to give you an idea just imagine fresh grilled pineapples, roasted jalapeños, and a summer day and that’s pretty much what it felt like was happening down there. Some sort of fruity, acidic heaven.
Trafford mentions that having to adjust his recipe to the giant 45 gallon, 325 jar-sized kettle was difficult, “and scaling, you would think going from a 6 gallon container to this would work, but it doesn’t multiply. Some things do, and some things just don’t.” It was a lot of trial and error as he got comfortable making the recipe.
He dumps in some aromatic cilantro, and you could see all the beautiful colors of the salsa finally coming together.
As he mixes over the heat, the kitchen really starts to smell like my favorite Mexican restaurant and I just want to stick a tortilla chip in and eat it.
Trafford brings the kettle up to temp and then begins to set up the machine he uses for jarring.
Debbie asks Trafford why he thinks his salsa has done so well, and he simply says “it’s trial and error. And knowing who your customer is. That’s really the key part of it.”
As Trafford begins transferring the hot-as-magma salsa into the machine, he tells us a terribly bad but funny story of getting a duck fat burn in his eye while working at his parents restaurant, and his concern at the time about becoming a permanent pirate from damage to his eye. But thankfully, all is well and his two eyes are helping him get the salsa into jars with expert precision.
Trafford and Jonathan create a little assembly line where Trafford pumps the jars with salsa, hands them off to Jonathan who screws on the lids and places them upside down on a tray to seal.
I’m shocked by how fast they move through the jarring process, but they move with grace and before I can blink a whole tray is already filled up.
This kitchen is really like a finely tuned orchestra, with Trafford as the conductor giving orders yet joking around, cutting fast yet with intense care. It’s a balancing act that is really cool to see in action, and Trafford’s youthful personality makes the kitchen feel that much brighter and crazier.
I think one of my favorite moments is also a small one. Amid cutting his 1000th grilled pineapple of the day, Trafford glances at Matt filming the kettle and shakes his head while mumbling, “it all started out as teacher’s gifts, who would have thought”. And really, things like this make what we do all worth it.
We carry many different Kane’s Salsa products, from their grilled pineapple salsa to black bean and corn salsa. I can say from personal experience that the grilled pineapple salsa is absolutely amazing and tastes great on fish tacos, so you definitely need to give it a try.
As always, we want you to feel the connection we experience everyday in our line of work. It’s important you know where your food comes from, and choose to support the local artisans who care so deeply for the area we live in.
Until next time, at your favorite local producer,
Kelsey of Lees and Clements’ Market