Woodbury resident David Merten used to own a car dealership.
Now he’s selling his own brand of salsa.
“It’s a lot easier than selling a car,” Merten said. “If it tastes good, people will buy it.”
When his New Richmond, Wis., car lot took a major hit about five years ago after the highway it sat along was altered, he looked for a new career path and even considered setting up a hotdog stand in downtown St. Paul. “Just something,” he said.
Merten’s wife, Maruine, suggested he start selling her family’s salsa recipe at farmers markets, and Snappy Dog Salsa was born.
It’s now sold in 100 stores—including Lunds, Byerly's, , , co-ops and other specialty stores—and a dozen farmers markets in the area, .
“I never do anything lightly,” Merten said.
While it seems like an odd career change, Merten said he’s always been interested in food. He owned a catering company at age 21 and even added a kitchen to his old car dealership.
“I make the meanest pot of chili you ever saw,” Merten said.
The name of his salsa came from a snorkeling trip with his family in the Cayman Islands. His son saw a dog snapper fish, and they thought it would be a great name for a company.
The secret to Snappy Dog Salsa, Merten said, is “sweet heat.”
“It brings out the flavors in all the onions and peppers and tomatoes,” he said. “You’re not just tasting heat. You get the taste first and the heat comes around on the back side.”
There are three flavors sold in stores, but at farmers markets all nine varieties, including cranberry and rhubarb, are available.
The success of Snappy Dog Salsa has taken some luck, Merten said.
Last summer he supplied Kenny Chesney’s tour with salsa after the country music star’s marketing guy turned him on to it. And what Merten thought would be a small story in the Star Tribune’s business section a couple of years ago ended up on the front page.
The actual salsa production, however, is more systematic.
Depending on the season, Merten said he looks for ingredients grown close to Woodbury, and expands out as needed. The salsa is made at a St. Paul kitchen, and he’s gained a loyal following at farmers markets.
While the hot, medium and mild varieties are sold in stores, Merten said those looking for something different should visit a farmers market for the other versions. He enjoys cooking with the rhubarb salsa and uses it on pork roast.
“You can do just about anything with them,” Merten said. “Plus they’re healthy—salsa’s good for you.”
It’s also good for his daughter.
Jackie, 12, suffers from hereditary pancreatitis, and Merten has established the Quarter Jar Charity Foundation. One quarter of each jar sold through No Shoes Radio goes toward research for the disease. She was often in and out of the hospital until the family connected her with doctors at the University of Minnesota.
Today, she’s “fantastic,” Merten said.
So is Snappy Dog Salsa, judging from the lines at his booth at Saturday’s . (The booth was made from wood reclaimed from an old barn.)
Up next for Merten is work on a margarita mix, hot sauce and chili mix.