The Blue Smoke Salsa Story
Faith. Courage. Resilience.
If one were asked to describe the traits common amongst people who call the Appalachian region home, those three words would represent the spirit of these mountains perfectly.
Fittingly, the words faith, courage, and resilience also tell the story of an iconic Appalachian brand, as well.
Blue Smoke SalsaThe Blue Smoke Salsa story began as humbly and inconspicuously as these things often do, with Robin Hildebrand making and her homemade salsas to take to church events and to share with her co-workers. The uniquely sweet and savory flavor combinations of her recipes caught the attention of almost everyone who tried them, and, soon enough, people began asking if they could purchase it.
At first, this seemed like a silly notion to Robin, but with every request she received, Robin began to feel the spark of inspiration grow within her.
She wasn’t even quite sure where to begin, but her faith in her creation was growing by the day. Of course, the brand would need a name, and it didn’t take long for her to remember days long gone by being chased by her older brothers in the garden of their childhood home. Waving the hottest peppers in the garden at her, they playfully told her that these were so hot they’d make “blue smoke” come out of her ears.
And Blue Smoke Salsa was born.
Obviously, Robin’s kitchen wasn’t appropriate for making a commercially available product, so she took a massive leap of faith and embarked on a massive undertaking – one that everyone told her wouldn’t be possible. Undeterred, over the course of the next year, Robin was able to build out an FDA inspected and approved commercial kitchen in the basement of her Fayette County, West Virginia home.
It was within these humble walls that Blue Smoke Salsa began its operations.
Robin worked tirelessly to share her product and the Blue Smoke Salsa story. She traveled to countless fairs and festivals across the state of West Virginia, where she sampled and sold her unique sweet onion salsas. More importantly, perhaps, she connected with the people she met, and as time went by, Blue Smoke Salsa grew a tremendous following of people who were proud of an outstanding product that originated from their Appalachian home.
Robin was also skilled at connecting with buyers of a different type – food buyers. Through a combination of her natural salesmanship skills, an ability to tell her and her brand’s story, and a great product, Robin was able to get Blue Smoke Salsa on retail shelves quickly – from small boutique stores to well-known chains like Kroger and Sam's Club.
As the demand for Blue Smoke Salsa grew, Robin's basement kitchen could no longer meet the demand for her products. Determined to continue delivering her products to an ever-growing group of loyal customers, Robin took another leap of faith and embarked on a new chapter for her company and brand.
Robin’s vision was a combined manufacturing facility and retail store – which she built in the tiny town of Ansted, West Virginia, just minutes from the New River Gorge bridge. Visitors were greeted by a massive Blue Smoke Salsa logo painted across the length of the top of the brick building in the middle of town. Once inside, guests could immerse themselves in the salsa-making process, watching Robin and her team cook Blue Smoke Salsa in 80-gallon kettles behind a glass wall that ran the length of the retail shop. The experience was so unique that the store became a regular stop for tour busses passing through the area.
Through faith, courage, and resilience, Robin had grown her little idea from her kitchen to a thriving and beloved Appalachian brand. The future was bright.
Then came 2007…and a prolonged recession…and loan payments…and slowing demand…
As problems and challenges seemed to mount by the day, Robin eventually made the difficult decision to sell her brand to a larger, out of state company, while agreeing to stay on as President. While that decision helped Robin escape some of the unrelenting stress of the last few years, it also brought about changes that were difficult for her to accept. Ingredients were changed and recipes were tweaked to “help keep costs down”. Robin could feel her beloved brand and the products slowly drifting away from the vision and uncompromising quality she had always insisted upon.
Eventually, Robin had to take the biggest leap of faith yet – the decision to part ways with the company, leaving behind the brand she had grown from the humble walls of her Fayette County basement.
Over the course of the next few years, Blue Smoke Salsa changed hands multiple times, and each time the recipes and quality seemed to drift further and further away from Robin's original vision and brand promise. By 2018, Robin's picture, once a symbol of the brand's authenticity, had vanished from the jar.
Robin, and many of Blue Smoke Salsa’s longest fans and customers, had lost hope of the product ever being the same again. In fact, she doubted the brand would even survive much longer.
But, in late 2022, a new – and very unexpected -- chapter in the Blue Smoke Salsa story began to unfold.
New River Brands, a Charleston, West Virginia based startup, acquired the rights to Blue Smoke Salsa, recognizing the brand's rich heritage and the longing for its revival. They wasted no time reaching out to Robin, eager to bring back her passion and vision she had instilled from the very beginning. After heartfelt discussions, Robin agreed to return to her brand as a consultant and brand ambassador, bringing her treasured original recipes and her unwavering dedication to quality back into the fold.
Today, fittingly, her picture and brand promise proudly grace the jar once again.
This remarkable journey of faith, courage, and resilience has brought Robin and Blue Smoke Salsa full circle, and she is back exactly where she belongs.
"Eventually, all hearts come home," says Robin.
We couldn’t agree more, Robin. We couldn't agree more.