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Life & Work with Brian Podgorski

Today we’d like to introduce you to Brian Podgorski.

Hi Brian, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
The idea came while on vacation a few years back, my wife and I came to the conclusion that we both wanted to be our own boss, doing our own thing, and that it had to be about food. As it would happen we met several local owners of the food scene where we were vacationing and they gave us inspiration to give it a go.

Upon returning home we immediately starting putting our kitchen to work. Night after night we stayed up late working on all types of food from Nikki’s background as we inched closer to the idea of actually making this a real thing. One problem, we didn’t have the means to open our own food truck and would have to pivot to something else.

We love salsa verde and wanted to learn how to make it, but it is a secret recipe to most families so we crafted our own version. Soon we were selling to friends and co-workers, and then to people beyond that circle. At that point, it made sense to start our own little cottage food business as we were getting consistent orders. December of 2019 we minted the idea of The Salsa Collaborative.

Our first month of business was great! This would not last long however as the effects of the Covid Pandemic were soon to come over the horizon. Once we were unable to obtain glass jars for our salsa, we worried this might be the end of our new start up. The only thing that was available from our local supplier was small hot sauce bottles. So we decided to pivot again and add hot sauce to the menu, that turned out to be the right thing to do.

Once the first couple batches of our hot sauce got out, it really started to take off. About 6 months after we started making our hot sauce we finally got a big break. A local pepper head and YouTube star, shout out to Rob at 7Pot Club, put one of our sauces as his favorite and that put us on the radar for a lot of people.

After that, we began to work with stores from local spots to national retailers. We were being invited by chefs to come hang out in the kitchen and chat recipes and collaborations. Now you can find us in 20 local locations and counting, and in 20+ states with the national retailer Sierra Trading Club. We also hit the local farmers market scene hard, doing up to 5 markets a week at our peak! Meeting all of our new clients face to face has to be the highlight of the summer as we got to meet so many people!

So that leads us to today, and things are still changing. We recently won the 5th Annual East Side Burger Battle that is hosted by Chef Mik German, who is the Chef/Owner of 328 Grill and the upcoming 246 Grill. That was the moment when we were no longer home cooks, but chefs. Certified by the whose who of the food world after winning a competition with real deal chefs. That’s not something we take lightly. We understand that it is a title earned, and are grateful to be in this space. We have held several successful pop-up events since and continue to be active in the local market community. Our goal is to continue on this food path in hopes it leads to more friends, collaborations, and good times within this great local food scene!

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
The start wasn’t so smooth. We had just launched and were creating some buzz before the Covid Pandemic shut down supply chains. With absolutely zero small business experience or training we did not know how to prepare for these sort of issues. Nikki and I were still both working full time, often at times more than that, and could not focus on our business 100%. That simply shut us down, end of story. No jar, no salsa.

Thankfully being that we are both creative people we have a decent ability to pivot in situations like this. So far we are successful in the pivots that we have made and it lead us to more opportunity. There will always be challenges when trying to meet the demands of your small business. You need to find a way to create solutions from the setbacks.

We have been able to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time due to being so active. That has made the long nights and weeks very rewarding!!!

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
We are known for being creative with our food concepts and for our ability to balance flavors and profiles. We also emphasize buying from local Minnesota farmers and suppliers as much as possible. When you buy any product from us, you are helping us support our local Small Business eco system. Everything from the labels to the boxes we ship in are sourced from MN companies.

We are known for being creative with our food concepts and for our ability to balance flavors and profiles. Our lack of traditional food education and training allows us to fully utilize our creativity and set the limits of our ideas naturally through trial and error. As we grow and learn more about food for ourselves, we will continue to inject our personality into our approach to what we do.

I love our curiosity for all things food, from ingredients to preparations and techniques. We always feel like there is more to learn and experience. Even from foods we eat every day. Something new can come from something old with a simple change in its preparation. This has molded our cooking style to be very complimentary to working with chefs and restaurants. Being able to see one small change in a dish can open up a whole new conversation about that dish. It’s these conversations that I quit my job for, it’s the conversations Nikki and I live for.

What does success mean to you?
That’s a tough one, for me it’s sort of fluid. I come from a high demand sales background so the goal post is always moving with me. Nikki is much better at being present for each of our successes and letting them soak in. Once we reach a milestone I immediately look forward to what is the next step. What is the next thing I should be doing to grow our business and opportunities?

Success to me is not just about the numbers and metrics, but also the relationships that are established along the journey. I love to meet people from new backgrounds, and that will always keep my drive moving forward. Mixing that with my need to perform well from a sales aspect will hopefully get me to that goal post some day. Until then I am going to enjoy every long night, and early morning, working with my favorite person!

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Kaite Peterson (@thirstycrab)
Zac Gleason (@sotaeats)

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