Beaverton couple shares 'chaat' through Khalsa Salsa
When Sukhdev Singh and Rippy Kaur first met in Punjab, India, they clicked right away.
What initially bonded them together was their philosophical views on gender equality and their background in the Sikh faith, the predominant religion in the Punjab region.
Their shared Sikh values would later re-emerge in a joint entrepreneurial venture in Beaverton decades later.
Khalsa Salsa is a fusion between Mexican salsa and bold, fragrant Indian spices. The term "Khalsa" — serendipitously rhyming with salsa — is a concept that is core to their faith, which denotes "clear" and "pureness," as well as the commitment to serve underprivileged and vulnerable people.
The sharing of food is another tenet of the Sikh faith. Around the world, Sikh temples, also known as gurdwaras, provide a free meal to anyone who stops by, regardless of faith, race or class. During these meals, everyone sits on the floor, emphasizing that everyone is equal.
Salsa itself is another equalizer, often placed in the middle of a table for everyone to share.
When the couple first immigrated to the United States in the early 1990s, they not only left friends and family behind, but also their favorite foods. They fondly remember the endless array of street food options and various spicy, tangy, savory and sweet (chapata) flavors of their respective hometowns in Northern India.
While the Bay Area today has a significantly more diverse immigrant population, the options for Indian food back in the early '90s were quite slim. Kaur and Singh learned to embrace food from other cultures, particularly Mexican food and chips with salsa, which reminds them of the savory snacks (chaat) they used to enjoy growing up.
"I was introduced to pico de gallo by my Mexican friends at work," Singh said. "I had tasted things like tomato, onion, cilantro individually, but the combination of them, the juiciness of the tomatoes, the lemon, everything mixed up was really amazing."
Kaur and Singh took those ingredients and experimented with Indian spices and flavors. The specific spices they use — well, that's a secret, and if Kaur were to tell you, she'd "have to kill you," she quipped.
But it took several more years to turn these at-home experiments into an actual business.
They each had their day jobs — Singh as an engineer and Kaur as a health physicist — and the time and risk of starting a brand-new business with a niche product seemed too high initially. But in 2019, they finally decided to pull the trigger.
They were living in Beaverton at the time, which in 2019 felt much more welcoming to this sort of venture than the Bay Area did in the early '90s, Singh and Kaur say.
For all they have in common, Singh and Kaur's approaches to business are quite different.
Kaur comes from a family of small business owners. She's is a conceptual thinker, with big ideas and an entrepreneurial spirit.
Singh, who tends to be a bit more reserved on first impression, takes care of the research and logistics of running a startup business.
"I just dream, and he makes it happen," Kaur joked, prompting a chuckle and nod from her husband.
Khalsa Salsa serves as not only a business venture for the couple, but a creative escape from the stifling nature of corporate America.
Both Singh and Kaur said they were burned out on their day jobs. Kaur herself said she faced gender and race discrimination in her field. She was happy to leave, even if it meant taking a risk.
And so far, it appears the risk has paid off.
In 2021, the couple received recognition from the Good Food Foundation for their Mango Habanero Indian Fusion salsa. Khalsa Salsa was also of three Emerge Initiative Recipients recognized with a $5,000 grant award from Black Founders Matter and the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network.
Also last year, Khalsa Salsa was one of five businesses selected for a $25,000 cash convertible-note investment, along with incubation services, from the Oregon Technology Business Center as part of the annual Beaverton Startup Challenge.
Singh said that he hopes to use the money and resources from the incubator to better market their product.
"We want to do customer outreach," he said. "Our product has been winning a lot of awards, but the problem is the consumer doesn't know about it."
In February, Khalsa Salsa will be featured at the Winter Fancy Food Show, which will be in Las Vegas this year. Kaur hopes the show will help give them the exposure they need to grow and hopefully introduce new recipes.
Khalsa Salsa is currently available at several Market of Choice, New Seasons Market, Green Zebra and Chuck's Produce locations across Oregon and Washington. The salsa can also be found at Food Fight! Grocery and People's Food Co-op in Portland. Product is also available to buy on Khalsa Salsa's website at www.khalsasalsa.net
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