December 1, 2013 by Christina Hamlett
A Conversation with Robert (Bobby) Biggs
There’s a growing movement nationwide to shop local and to support small business owners rather than stampeding to big box stores and crowded malls, especially during the holidays. To that end, we’re pleased to put Robert Biggs, Founder and CEO of Papi Chulo Salsa, in the spotlight and discover how he has grown his tasty and distinctive product from scratch.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: So tell us about the journey of how Papi Chulo Salsa came to be.
A: Several years ago I had been seriously injured my back and couldn’t walk, stand or sit and was bed-ridden for almost 2 years. I had a lot of time to reassess my life and my future. I decided to dedicate myself to work diligently work on this salsa recipe I had started many years prior to my injury.
Q: I’m guessing there’s an interesting story behind the name you chose for your product. What is it?
A: Papi Chulo means “Hot Daddy” or “Sexy Daddy” and in some countries “Pimp Daddy”. I first heard the expression from my next door neighbor, “I’m Papi Chulo”! Then I heard it used again and again by other Latinos and always with a broad smile on their faces. I loved the expression so much, I bought the rights to the name “Papi Chulo Salsa” and had it trademarked. But first I had to really get creative and design a label that would be unlike any other jar on the shelves.
Q: What were you doing prior to the decision to launch your company?
A: I had been a professional photographer for a number of years and a bartender for nearly 25 years.
Q: You certainly wear no shortage of hats as the company’s Founder and CEO, including R&D, Executive Chef, Marketing, Graphic Designer, Accountant, Vendor and Salesman. Which of these roles do you find (1) the most challenging, (2) the most fun, and (3) the one you wish you had someone else doing for you (i.e., putting out a bowl of salsa and chips for helpful elves to come in and perform while you’re sleeping)?
A: I know where I need Papi Chulo Salsa to go in its first three years which is saturating the Bay Area at farmers’ markets as well as quality grocery markets, which includes “organic” markets as well as high-end markets (markets with high standards and known quality). The most challenging aspect of my world is getting on the shelves. We want to be in Sacramento and So Cal within five years and New York in ten.
The most fun has been improving upon perfection successfully and getting the feedback from repeated customers. They are my soundboard and my family members are my cheerleaders.
I wish I had the money to hire a Director of Marketing. I want to steer the ship rather than be the ship. But we are making money and operating in the black and we know where we want and need to go.
Q: What do you feel makes Papi Chulo Salsa stand out from the competition?
A: There is no flavor like Papi Chulo Salsa even in a Latino kitchen. We are the only organic salsa you will find in California, well pretty much anywhere other than Miami, Florida. Our Salsa is made by hand, the ingredients are locally grown and locally made. When you buy Papi Chulo Salsa, you are supporting the small family business, our local farmers and our local economy; moreover, you are buying the best salsa money can buy. We are the only salsa you can actually cook with and there is a huge variety of dishes to make your dishes stand-out.
Q: There’s no question that the past few years have made it tough for new businesses to get off the ground, much less prove themselves sustainable, and yet you boldly charged ahead rather than wait for a more favorable economic climate. What governed this decision?
A: I didn’t think it would take me seven years to achieve the flavors that I have, but I knew I had something special. Given the economic climate, people are taking notice of what is going on their plate. I think Alice Waters started this food revolution. When I went organic, the flavors went through the roof. This salsa is more than food, it’s sensational.
Q: You’ve probably gotten lots of been there/done that advice on how to run a business, chart your life, and manage your time and resources. What advice stands out as the most beneficial, and who did it come from?
A: In the beginning I needed to watch my budget be absolutely self-reliant because I started with nothing other than a credit card. My sister Shannon strongly insisted that I go organic. I was quite resistant because I knew that not only would I have to spend more money but I would need to once again modify the recipe. OMG, I didn’t expect the flavor to grab myself and everybody who tasted it as much as it did. This was incredibly delicious and it kept getting better and better with every tiny tweak of the recipe.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start a new business and market his/her own brand?
A: Do your research. Find out what certificates and licenses you will need, they differ county to county. What will the certificates cost? Find out how to do your COG and projected P&L. Find out how to write a comprehensive business plan, then submit it to a professional who can scrutinize it and give you advice before going to the bank or applying for an SBA loan, because you will need money. There are many resources you can look into for professional advice.
Q: Have you ever had an “Aha!” moment?
A: A couple of months ago I decided to roast ALL my chiles. A weekly customer who buys 3-4 jars every week at my Farmer’s Market told me that my “hot” salsa was not as hot as it used to be. I thought that was absurd and told him “no way”. He said yeah, for the last 2 weeks it hasn’t been nearly as hot. Well for the last 2 weeks I had been roasting 100% of my chiles because the flavor was thru the ceiling. I remedied that and kept the best of both worlds.
Q: If you could serve your signature salsa to any famous person from the pages of history, who would it be, why, and what would you serve with it?
A: Great question… I would have to say Ben and Jerry. I not only love their business model but their values and commitment to the Green Economy, local communities and their business savvy. They are such advocates of Nature’s rights and Human Rights and I admire all these qualities to a high degree, but could you imagine the knowledge and experience they could offer me on this journey? So I would start by offering them a Signature Bloody Mary made with “Very Hot” and this is a must taste. Then I would have to serve flautas with sour cream, guacamole and Papi Chulo Salsa for appetizers, followed with ceviche topped with a dollop of “Medium” Papi Chulo Salsa.
Q: How do you define “success” in terms of your many accomplishments?
A: Another good question, wow. Of my accomplishments, I was able to listen to the hundreds of customers at the Farmers Market and use them as my soundboard weekly and fine-tune these intricate flavors, because Papi Chulo Salsa is “driven by flavor” and that is how I want it to be branded. However, I feel I won’t be successful till Papi Chulo Salsa is a household name and available coast-to-coast. And that is my ten-year plan.
Q: What do you know now that you didn’t know when your journey as an entrepreneur first began?
A: So much bureaucracy on both a state and county level. There are so many hoops to jump through and each hoop costs a lot of money.
Q: What’s your next step insofar as expanding the Papi Chulo brand and/or trying something completely new?
A: Once we have a strong foothold we will be coming out with a fresh Salsa Verde with avocado.
Q: What is something about salsa that most people don’t know?
A: Of the few organic salsas out there, the major ingredient is organic tomato paste and water.
Q: What’s something that most people would be surprised to learn about you?
A: People think that Papi Chulo Salsa is made by a Latino. They are sure it’s my abuelita’s (Mexican grandmother’s) recipe. They are surprised that this white boy was able to create such a salsa.
Q: Where can readers learn more about your company?
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: Two things: 1) Please ask your grocery manager for Papi Chulo Salsa. 2) My website has a few glitches and my webmaster cannot address these issues till January. Please be patient, I am learning HTML and WordPress.