Link to Owner Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.



Nikki Guerrero is building a business built on spicy soul food.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - Hot Mama Salsa's Nikki Guerrero at her Northeast Portland kitchen.Anyone can find tomatoes, spices and peppers at the store, toss it together and call it salsa.

That’s never been good enough for Nikki Guerrero.

Since starting Hot Mama Salsa in North Portland eight years ago, Guerrero has steadily grown her businesses by working with local farmers to source nearly all of her ingredients when in season.

For example, tomatoes, tomatillos, herbs and chile peppers come from Sauvie Island; she imports freeze-dried chiles from Mexico and Peru and works with farmers to replant the seeds and grow here.

“I like that creating that comfort, that soul food,” says Guerrero, a second-generation Mexican American who came to Oregon from Arizona in 1999. “I spent two years searching out the green corn tamale before I found out there was no such thing here.”

Hot Mama Salsa is one of the 30 vendors who will be setting up shop this month at King Farmers Market (which runs 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sundays starting May 1).

The King Market opened in 2009 in the Alberta Arts District, not far from Hot Mama Salsa’s headquarters.

In February, she moved the operation into a commercial kitchen behind Cherry Sprout Produce market, on North Sumner Street.

The Portland Farmers Market is about to dive into its 25th season this month, having positioned itself as an incubator for vendors like Hot Mama Salsa.

This year, the Market adds Lents International Farmers Market to its family (open 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Sundays starting in June).

It’ll be the city’s only international farmers market, with produce from Hmong, Latino and Russian farmers, among others.

In all, Portland Farmers Market boasts more than 700,000 shoppers each year, purchasing farm-fresh produce, meats, cheeses, seafood, baked goods and other specialty foods from more than 190 vendors generating more than $8 million in sales annually.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - Nikki Guerrero mixes ingredients for her Hot Mama Salsa.The Farmers Market has been Guerrero’s springboard from the start.

After building a customer base sampling her fresh salsa at St. Johns Farmers Market and Interstate Farmers Market on a weekly basis, she landed in local co-ops and then New Seasons, Whole Foods and Green Zebra, Sheridan Fruit Company and World Foods.

Along the way she’s grown the venture to include a line of hot sauces, chile oils and tortilla chips, which she makes with non-GMO thick white corn, fried in peanut oil.

This summer with a staff of six — plus help from her six-year-old daughter, husband and other family members — she wants to add two more hot sauces and at least for a total of 10 product labels.

Guerrero also works with local restaurants that showcase her products. Sweedeedee, the cafe across the street, uses Hot Mama Salsa in their burritos, offers their hot sauce on the table and uses their specialty chile pepper rub to rim their Bloody Marys.

Guerrero is humbled by the local support, and plans to keep on innovating. Some of her favorite peppers are the ajiamirillo (a yellow chile from Peru), the fatali (an African habero that her farmer found through a seed catalog), and La Catarina (a small, bell-shaped Oaxacan chile).

“I always think we can’t find another pepper that’s distinct and interesting and that we love as much,” she says. “And then we do.”


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