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Charlotte teen launches hot business: Selling salsa

By Reid Creager
Correspondent
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/09/17/54/uDkZA.Em.138.jpg|316
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  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/09/13/28/XsXB0.Em.138.jpeg|208
    JOHN D. SIMMONS - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com
    Cassandra Brown holds a tasting at the Mint Hill Farmer's Market. Her salsa comes in mild, medium and hot varieties.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/09/13/28/3TG9q.Em.138.jpeg|237
    - REID CREAGER
    Cassandra Brown says Pauline Ross, 97, is a weekly visitor to her booth at the Mint Hill farmers market. “She likes the hot salsa the best,” says Cassandra.

More Information

  • Cassandra Brown

    Age: 16

    Home: Mint Hill

    School: Providence Day

    Hobbies: Lacrosse, horseback riding (hunter jumper)

    Favorite book: Anything by Sarah Dessen, who grew up in Chapel Hill

    Favorite musician: Carrie Underwood, Rob Thomas

    Favorite business: Daphne’s Bakery in Mint Hill, “because it’s awesome and has really good cakes, and it’s owned and run by a young woman.”



The ingredients listed on the label of Cassandra’s Garden Salsa are tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, banana pepper, lime juice, salt, garlic and chili powder. But Cassandra Brown knows a lot more goes into it than that.

Since she began selling her salsa at Charlotte-area Harris Teeter stores in late May, Cassandra, a 16-year-old junior at Providence Day School, has learned more about business than many people do in a lifetime. She’s also learned a lot about herself and what she can accomplish, as well as the importance of supportive family and friends.

“It’s been an amazing experience in many ways,” Cassie says. “It’s a lot of hard work, but I’ve also had fun with it. And my family has been a big help.”

Cooking up a business

Family is where it all began. Cassie’s grandfather is a farmer, which inspired her love of gardening at an early age.

“When I was 6, I made a garden with tomatoes, peppers, that kind of thing,” she says. “When I was 9, we started to make salsa and sell it to friends because we had so many tomatoes and peppers that we had to do something with them.”

Little did she know that would set the stage for a business years later. Harris Teeter’s “Meet Your Neighbor” local vendor program seemed a natural fit; now her mild salsa is selling at 28 of the store’s locations ($4.99 for a 16-oz. jar), as well as at local farmers markets. (See her website, www.cassiessalsa.com, or her Facebook page.)

Her mother and father have helped with some of the adult aspects, usually with Cassie on hand: FDA approval, contracts, trademarks, distributors, packers, travel to and from making the salsa, taste-testing appearances at Harris Teeter and farmers markets.

That’s a lot for a teenager who already had a busy schedule with school, lacrosse and horseback riding, among other pursuits. “It’s kind of hard, but we make it work,” she says.

Cassie – aided by her mom, dad, brother Read, 21, and sister Austin, 19 – make the salsa at an Asheboro co-packing company that makes other items, so they have the equipment to make large batches of items. Company employees help them process it.

Cassie’s mother, Lisa Brown, is the one certified to make the salsa, so she has to be there. “When we actually have to make it, the process of that is an all-day event,” Lisa Brown says. “How much and how often we make it depends on how it sells off the shelves.”

As of early August, Cassie and family members had made four trips to Asheboro to make the salsa. “We dropped off 15 cases (12 jars per case) the last time,” she says.

Marketing class

Every Saturday at the Mint Hill farmers market, Cassie gets a visit from nearby resident Pauline Ross, 97.

“She likes the hot salsa the best,” Cassie says. Adds her mother: “She says she’s storing it up for the winter.”

It’s a small venue with sporadic customers, but Cassie understands the importance of being before the public. She also appears regularly at taste-testings at Charlotte-area Harris Teeters for a few hours each.

She’s determined to continue and learn as much as she can. When asked whether she would want the business to turn into a career, she says she’s keeping all options open. “Obviously I want to keep it going, though.”

Maybe her brother will help. Read Brown, a business major and rising senior at Lenoir-Rhyne University, used the salsa business for a dummy marketing plan in one of his classes. “It has real potential,” he says.

Although there are mild, medium and hot versions of the salsa, only the mild is sold at Harris Teeter. “Hopefully we’ll be able to get the medium into Harris Teeter next year and not just the mild,” Cassie says. Her brother prefers hot. “I tried that once and my mouth was on fire for, like, an hour,” she says.

Other possibilities include getting the salsa into Harris Teeter stores in Asheville, although that would warrant some long trips for taste-testing appearances. Meanwhile, Cassie is hoping the sales will help her save money for a new car.

The family marvels at how far she and her business have come.

“Never in the beginning did she even think about that it would get to this point,” says her father, Stu Brown, who also helps with the gardening. “There are orders coming in from friends of friends, relatives...

“Whether she wants to pursue this or not, it’s been a learning experience. There are not too many who from probably age 13 to currently have gone through the process of meeting with attorneys for trademarks, meeting with distributors and packers, working with Harris Teeter. It’s been a great life lesson for her.”

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