Officially, the story of La Fundidora began around four years ago, when Mexico City native Vitali Meschoulam stepped into the Meat Hook in Williamsburg and saw chorizo verde from Toluca on the counter. His chilango tastebuds and his cooking instincts kicked in, and he knew what kind of salsa would pair best with the spicy sausage. He came back a few days later, a jar of salsa verde in hand, and presented it to the Meat Hook team. Immediately impressed, they told him he should start selling his concoctions at the Brooklyn Kitchen.
For the following months, Vitali took the very little free time his job as a financial analyst left him to make salsas in his apartment kitchen and take them to his neighborhood purveyors. But it was actually a business trip to Mexico that would trigger the salsas’ transformation from hobby to actual brand–he just didn’t know it yet.
During his stay in Mexico City, Vitali met fellow banker Lorena, who, after hearing about his salsa startup, jokingly told him he should hire her as CEO and transfer her to New York. “We weren’t even dating then,” laughs Lorena, “and three years later, here we are!” Her proposal worked. Maybe the salsa part took a bit longer, but they became a couple soon after, and a year into their long-distance relationship, she left Mexico City and joined Vitali in Williamsburg.
“Around the time we got married, I was so exhausted from working at the bank,” she recalls. “I loved the strategy and the analysis, but I didn’t really like the environment. The schedule was horrible. And I just wanted to do something that made people happy.” Quitting her job and doing nothing was not an option, and her brainstorming sessions brought her back to her new husband’s famous salsas. “It was always a dream of his, and it was funny because I teased him at the beginning, saying they were just like any random Mexican person’s salsa,” she says. Vitali’s response: “Exactly! And there’s nothing like that here.” And he was right.
Soon enough, Lorena started searching for jars, contacting vegetable suppliers and launching La Fundidora into the ever-challenging waters of the New York food scene. “Giving up my stable job was scary, especially because the food business is so competitive and I had zero experience,” she recalls. Production began in an industrial kitchen in Long Island City, where the couple, with the help of a fellow Mexican lady, took care of the entire process: salsa-making, packaging and labeling for their three varieties: Fresca (made with serrano chiles, tomatillos and cilantro), Fuego (tomatoes, tomatillos, chile de árbol and guajillo) and Humo (tomatoes, morita and pasilla). They were no longer in Vitali’s kitchen, but the goal of making all-natural salsas was still their top priority. With no preservatives, no water, and no cornstarch, “they’re as close to a homemade salsa as you can get,” says Lorena. “For people who are used to eating salsas made with water and frozen tomatoes, the taste is so different.”
One of Lorena’s favorite parts about the job is getting to explain salsas to new customers, and watch their reactions as they try them for the first time. “I want people to understand how the salsas are made and why they taste the way they do,” she says, “and I especially want them to see how they can use them on anything, not just chips.” Expanding people’s vision of Mexican food is one of La Fundidora’s missions, but at its core is the most basic goal of any culinary endeavor: making people smile. “Food makes us happy, it’s such a big part of our lives. And for me, it’s much more fun than my old job ever was. Even on days when I was making salsas for 18 hours straight, I’ve never regretted my decision.”
A little more than a year after they finished their first batch, much has changed for La Fundidora. Production has been moved to a small factory in Mexico, which allows for fresher ingredients because weather variations are smaller. “We are also getting all of our chiles and vegetables from small producers in Mexico, and supporting them is really important to us,” says Lorena. “We had to tweak the recipes a bit when we moved to Mexico, and the taste is seasonal, because vegetables change with the weather, too.”
Along with the change in their production site, a new web of distributors has allowed La Fundidora to expand from its Williamsburg birthplace not just to Manhattan–Dean & Deluca, Zabar’s, West Elm and Murray’s Cheese are a few of the places that carry the salsas–but across the country, reaching Boston, Philadelphia, California, Arizona and Colorado. And they’re not just planning on growing geographically, they also want to introduce new products. “Whenever we go to Mexico, we visit new cities or towns to discover their local salsas,” explains Lorena, saying they’ve currently got their eyes on Coahuila’s salsa macha (made with dried chiles, olive oil, garlic and salt), and a thick, guacamole-like salsa from Oaxaca, made only with jalapeños boiled with olive oil. “We’d also like to do a chipotle mayo, and chips. But good chips, they have to really taste like corn.”
In spite of the positive response they’ve gotten and what looks like the road to national salsa domination, Lorena says she sometimes feels like they still have a very long way to go. “Vitali really helps me realize how far we’ve come,” she says, “and as a couple it’s been amazing to see what his hobby has turned into.”
Beyond Quesadillas: The Fundidora Pairing Guide
Humo: The smoky salsa goes well with meat (Lorena recommends trying it on burgers) and strong cheeses. You can also mix it with mayo to give it a chipotle zing.
Fuego: Its earthy taste is great on scrambled eggs, rice and pasta dishes, and grilled cheese sandwiches. Blend it with sour cream to make sauces to top chicken or meat.
Fresca: Light and bright, use it on tacos, fish, chorizo, or as a dip for vegetables. It’s also an excellent guacamole enhancer.