Patrick Schwager is excited about the business that he and his mom, Lydia Alcala-Schwager run together, Aunt Nee’s Fresh Foods. And he has good reason to be, with demand rapidly pushing more productivity and distribution outlets that he anticipates will expand to other states by the end of this year.
Already a mainstay at many area markets and fairs, Aunt Nee's stirs it up each Friday at the , too.
The formula for success began when his parents took their salsa-making hobby to art-and-craft fairs in 2006 and started selling the packets to a receptive customer base.
“I was in college at the time and never imagined that I would end up joining the family business," said Schwager, who graduated from the with a degree in business. "My father was out of work then and for my parents, selling salsa mixes paid our mortgage and put food on our table.
"So after graduation, I decided to give it a try and see if we could grow the business even more together.”
Today, his father is employed full-time in the Bedford school district, while Schwager and his mother steer the family operation. They make the salsa mixes themselves, then package and sell them through many outlets: three farmers markets–including Dearborn, approximately 80 retail stores–including and the –and 40 to 50 art-and-craft fairs each year.
Schwager attributes a portion of this growth to an associate who helped build a foundation by securing retail outlets to sell the product. He remains an important entity in the company today.
Aunt Nee’s makes affordable and tasty salsa mixes, something that is important to their success.
“This delicious and healthy snack is basically a $2 product–a price that is affordable for nearly everyone," said Schwager. "We believe that people should have the chance to buy good food at a low price–a lesson we lived as well."
According to the instructions, all that is required is adding tomatoes to the mix in a blender or food processor. Or, for a chunkier salsa, simply mash it all together in a bowl.
The salsa mixes come in mild, medium and hot and are accompanied by four other products, including corn tortilla chips, which are apparently a favorite of Aunt Nee’s Dearborn clientele.
The most successful product is the medium salsa, comprising the majority of the company’s sales, but Schwager shared that Aunt Nee's Dearborn customers buy corn chips more than customers in other markets. He knows many of the shoppers personally, having gone to and UM-Dearborn.
Aunt Nee’s is among many family start-up businesses that have turned imaginative hobbies and cooking specialties into businesses to help fuel a new source of income.
Also like other small businesses, they turned to creative solutions to put their products on the market. Aunt Nee’s uses an existing commercial kitchen in a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Westland to prepare the mixes, in return for providing help with putting on fund-raising events for the organization. According to Schwager, it is a great partnership for both of them.
The family is grateful to their customers who have supported them since Lydia (aka Aunt Nee) began packaging her mixes and selling them in arts-and-crafts fairs Downriver in 2006.
“It is almost surreal to have people coming back to us over and over to buy something that we make," Schwager said. "It is humbling.”
Aunt Nee’s products are also available online at www.AuntNees.com. Check there for all store distributors, or contact the Garden City-based company by emailing email@example.com, or by calling 877-286-8633.
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