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What’s Cookin’: An Interview with Surf’s Up Salsa

Melinda Hambrick, NoCo Community Kitchen Manager
Melinda@prescottfarmersmarket.org   (928) 458-4163

Melanie McCorkle is the newest member of NoCo Community Kitchen, but she’s also the oldest. She officially launched Surf’s Up Salsa from a tiny table in the back of what was then The Eagles’ kitchen but is now NoCo. Her decision to do so was inevitable.

As a child, Melanie watched her grandmother, Aurora, make what she called “chile” all the time. When she was old enough, Aurora taught her to make it. That recipe, with a few tweaks, is what Melanie had been informally selling to friends, family, and co-workers since 2006 to pay for her eldest son, Merik’s, surf and skate camps. It wasn’t until 2008 while they were traveling to a surf event in Hawaii that her product got its name. It was Merik who chose the name “Surf’s Up Salsa,” and as Melanie says, “it stuck.”

Melanie with eldest son Merik at PFM at YRMC

Melanie’s salsa first appeared at Prescott Farmers Market in 2018. After 24 years in the dental industry, Melanie came home one evening and told her mother “she’d had it.” As a recently widowed mother of three children, two of them very young, it was critical to Melanie she find a way to have time with her children. The years she’d spent making and selling her product informally were all the market research she needed. Melanie knew “It was never not going to work because I was never going to give up on anything.” Her time spent in food service and the dental industry honed her communication skills and her product’s uniqueness contributed to her confidence. Surf’s Up is still one of the few fresh and organic salsas available. Although easier than it was six years ago, Melanie says “sourcing organic produce year-round, especially in Arizona, is still a challenge [but] that is what business is about; it’s learning how to do things.” And do things, she did.

After almost two years in Prescott, Melanie felt drawn to return to Carlsbad to tie up loose ends. There, the wave carrying Surf’s Up swelled. She began selling regularly at two farmers markets and had just entered her first store when COVID-19 hit. As markets closed and onion and tomato prices fluctuated wildly, she knew she had to do something. As she says, “Women are survivors and there’s always a way to do it but it’s always going to be an up and down. It’s the people that really ride that ride who succeed.” Melanie made the decision to leave her then-current commissary kitchen and eventually found a more affordable option by renting a tiny amount of space in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant still open for take-out. She also grew the wholesale side of her business, eventually selling in nine local stores.

Melanie prepping vegetables

Fresh cilantro is key

 

 

Melanie says, “When you have something you want to do and love, it really is just about visualizing. The first store my salsa went into, I used to go in there all the time and I kept telling myself in my head that one day I’ll have my salsa [in the store] and that turned out to be the very first store I went into, and it was the store that, to this day, I sold the most salsa in out of all the stores.”

In some ways, it was this growth that brought her back to Prescott. Melanie says, “One of the reasons I came here is to take a little backseat for a second and reevaluate where I’m at. I know I can do it at this point. I can be in 20 or 30 stores but I’d have to have a team and I would have to manage more.” Melanie is the first to admit that owning a successful food business is hard work. For her, the biggest reward is that her grandmother lived long enough to see her granddaughter’s chile on a store shelf.

From left to right: Grandmother Aurora, son River, daughter Shyar, aunt Jill, and Melanie (at Yavapai College)

 

You can meet Melanie and sample her Medium, Spicy, and Mango Habanero Salsa every Saturday at Prescott Farmers Market. Just look for the bright blue tent and the crowd of eager salsa eaters.

 

 

Check back next month for more of the “What’s Cookin’ Series”! We’ll will give you the inside scoop on what’s cooking at NoCo Community Kitchen, and more importantly, allow you to meet the amazing chefs and artisans behind the food. If you want to be the very first in the know, follow NoCo on Facebook and Instagram.

CONTACT US

Phone: 928-713-1227
Email:  info@prescottfarmersmarket.org

Mailing address:
PO Box 1853
Prescott, AZ 86302