Some Like It Hot
Years of sun, snacks, summers at the lake and an endless quest for a fresh summer salsa led native Oklahoman Dee Sporn to think, “I can make salsa better than this.” So she did—and she’s been making it ever since. Sporn, also known as Mamma Dee, spent years perfecting her recipe, which would eventually become a “hot” commodity.
Friends and family would rave about Mamma Dee’s salsa, encouraging her to sell it and sparking the idea that she might have something special. She started entering the salsa in food competitions and often came away with first prize. After the salsa knocked off a long-time favorite from the top spot to win an award in Albuquerque, NM, she said to herself, “we got something here we need to move forward with.”
That’s when she, along with husband, Jerrie, and daughter, Deitra McClure, decided to make a business out of it, and Mamma Dee’s salsa has now been on the market for three years. When it came to deciding to market her salsa, Mamma Dee says, “the biggest challenge was knowing where to go and how to do it.”
Taking a food course at Oklahoma State University about starting a business was the family’s first step. There they learned the most cost-effective way to go about selling their product. They were told that to be successful, they had to either make or sell their salsa—they couldn’t do both.
So they started on their journey, but not without a few challenges along the way. Demand soon started picking up which meant they were quickly running out of room. Plus, they started out only making salsa using fresh vegetables, but the need for fresh salsa to be refrigerated compromised its shelving ability. The salsa would have to be jarred. The Sporns developed a jarred version of their salsa that matched the fresh in every way — the only difference was the vegetables were cooked instead of fresh, but the taste and flavor didn’t change. With the shelf-stable version of the salsa, the Sporns were able to get their foot in the door with many local grocery stores. “Now they tell us our salsa is better than any other that they carry,” says Jerrie. The shelf-stable version also made the salsa shippable, landing it a spot in a couple of restaurants.
The next decision, to turn the making of the salsa over to a professional mass producer, was easy—especially when they learned about co-packers. The co-packer takes care of producing and jarring the salsa from start to finish, and is able to produce the salsa at a commercial level. Once entrusted with Mamma Dee’s secret recipe, the co-packer was quickly churning out jars of salsa as if they were made by Mamma Dee herself.
So what’s the salsa’s secret? “The whole formula makes it unique,” says Jerrie. “Anyone can throw vegetables together and call it a salsa. But it’s the spices that makes ours distinct.” Any further prompting on the Sporns’ spices only elicits a comment about “trade secrets” and “I’d have to kill you” from a chuckling Jerrie.
It also helps that Mamma Dee’s salsa can satisfy anyone’s heat threshold. The DreamCatcher Farm Gourmet Salsa comes in four different temperatures: Mamma Dee’s mild, medium (the original), pretty hot and “Jr.’s super duper hot.” The last is “habenero hot” and has won several awards in competitions across the nation.“If I can get it in their mouths then they will buy it,” says Jerrie. “It sells itself.”
Dee and Jerrie Sporn live on a miniature horse farm; the name of which, “DreamCatcher Farm,” became a natural title for the famous salsa that was formulated in the Sporns’ kitchen. The accountant/horse trainer/salsa seller has an unexpected spunky side that once led her to trade in her Mercedes for a Harley, which she used to ride to work. The Sporns, who’ve spent the better part of the past 50 years in Oklahoma, say Edmond is the most “appetizing” place for them to live. You’ll find them at local farmers’ markets or festivals like the Edmond Arts Festival or Affair of the Heart. Jars of the Sporns’ special salsa can be found at Simply Southwest at 1 N. Broadway in Edmond or in Gourmet Gallery, Crescent Markets and Red Dirt Emporium.