Q&A by Janice Randall Rohlf
Benjamin Johnson, of Sandwich, is founder and owner of My Fathah’s Salsa. He is a junior at Bryant College, majoring in marketing with a dual minor in communications and entrepreneurship.
Why did you decide to start a salsa business?
For one, I saw a need in the market for a salsa that was made from quality fresh-cut ingredients instead of canned and processed veggies like most of the other salsa companies’ use these days. I wanted to create a brand that values putting quality products into our customers’ hands. I realized that if I could start this company and be successful, I could help bring some life to the Cape Cod job market, which has always been mostly seasonal work. I want the My Fathah’s Brand to bring jobs to the Cape. I discovered during freshman year of college that you just can’t beat being your own boss. Working for myself has been so rewarding and enjoyable. Every day is different and exciting.
What advice would you give someone wanting to follow a similar path?
Starting a business is no easy task. You have to have passion for not only your business, but also your products. If you don’t absolutely love and believe in your product, consumers won’t either. The best advice I can give is never be afraid to ask for help. No business was started alone, and none of the star CEOs you see on Instagram or the news started their businesses alone. They all had help; a network is what we call it today. By building a strong network of people, you can turn to them for help when an issue arises, and this might just be what makes or breaks you. Having a mentor in the industry of your business can also be extremely helpful. I’ve been lucky enough to have a couple conversations with Stacy Madison, former owner of Stacy’s Pita Chips.
For young people like myself, be curious and ask questions. Understand that once you start working in the real world at a young age you might think you know it all, but you don’t. Be attentive and learn from the other people in the room. Creating a business and brand will take time. Be patient, stay focused, and most of all have fun. If you’re not having fun, pick a different job. Life is too short to not have fun.
In your business, what has been your proudest moment?
With My Fathah’s Salsa I don’t think I could pick a particular moment. There seems to be one reoccurring moment though that is my favorite. Whether it’s at the beach, a farmer’s market, or in my own kitchen, watching someone take their first bite of My Fathah’s Salsa and seeing their reaction. For a business owner, I don’t think there is a better feeling than seeing people enjoy your product for the first time and giving you that “Wow, this is actually pretty good” look.
How has the CCCI helped you get your business off the ground, or how would you have benefited from a similar organization when you were starting out?
Resources like the CCCI are so great. And I highly recommend people use them. The people are always fantastic and happy to help. In the food industry there is quite a bit of paperwork that comes with starting a business, and going to resources like CCCI can help you figure out what your business needs to do to get off the ground safely and, of course, legally.
What one thing/service in the food industry do you think the Cape is missing?
The Cape has such a great vibe when it comes to the food industry and especially eating out. The food industry booms here in the warm weather. The farmers markets on Cape are a big deal, with many local vendors selling fantastic and fresh products, usually made right in their own home.
What most people don’t understand is that if these businesses want to be commercial, they need to produce their products out of a licensed commercial kitchen facility. Cape Cod doesn’t have a single facility for rent, not one. The Cape needs a facility that offers multiple kitchens for use for all different types of products. This would allow many businesses on Cape to become commercial wholesalers to the area.
How do you juggle college and the salsa business?
I am answering these questions while in the Bryant University library. I just finished up my last class for the day. I can’t lie … this has probably been the hardest part of starting the business for me. I tend to throw myself into my work and that has made finding the balance really hard. Most days in class I’m shooting off work emails and working on the brand while I’m taking notes and listening to lectures. It’s not easy, but it’s a lot of fun. The business keeps me from being involved on campus more heavily but has allowed me to do things like speak at open houses and work with a couple of entrepreneurial groups on campus. I also always make sure to inform my professors about my businesses because a lot of times its applicable to class. Sometimes I can use my school assignments and apply them to the business, so in a way I can do both at once. My social life is pretty funny at school because I’m either Ben or the guy with the salsa company, depending on who I’m talking to.
Describe your perfect day of eating on Cape Cod.
I’ve never been a big breakfast person. I either don’t eat anything and just grab an iced coffee or I’ll have a Chobani Flip yogurt; I love Chobani products because they’re very fresh, healthy, taste great, and are a quick start to the day. If I’m eating breakfast out, which is rare, you will probably find me at one of Marshland’s locations in Sandwich.
For lunch, I’m probably heading to one of my favorite spots, The Sagamore Inn, for a quick bite on the back deck. The place has a great home vibe and the food is always good and fresh. I don’t know many restaurants that can fry seafood like they can.
For dinner, I really like to cook. Lately I’ve been on a big My Fathah’s tacos kick. I’ll season some hamburger meat and cook it up, get some hard shells in the oven, and fill them with all the goods—My Fathah’s Hot, of course, with some sour cream, guac, lettuce, you name it, it’s on there. Tacos in the Johnson household are really nice because it’s a pretty easy clean-up too and we don’t need to argue over who’s doing the dishes.