Deep Cuts: Food Entrepreneurs in San Antonio 

click to enlarge TIO PELON’S SALSITA
  • Tio Pelon’s Salsita

James Vives, Brushfire Farms
A family recipe and the chile pequin plants of South Texas inspired James Vives to start making spicy-sweet jams, but his time in Break Fast & Launch, a culinary business accelerator, made him realize that he could reinvent the way people thought about jam.

“The chile pequin is the end all be all of flavors, you cannot find another pepper like it,” he said. Vives has developed several chile pequin jam flavors — including the Pear Burner, made with prickly pear, and the Hill Country Heat, made with peaches from Fredericksburg — that have been recognized in a number of regional and international food competitions, including the Good Food Awards.



You can find Brushfire in local stores like Smoke Shack, Cooper’s Meat Market and Larder at Hotel Emma. In 2019, the company hopes to release a new line of glazes, with plans to move into a local kitchen and establish their official headquarters locally in March.

“My goal is to really build a Texas-made, Texas-sourced brand to go go statewide,” said Vives, who will enter several regional taste and small business competitions this year. “My thought process on momentum is: Don’t stop — just keep going and keep growing.”

Cheryl White, Deep River Specialty Foods
Cheryl White turned her passion for creative, unique dishes like homemade beer mustard into a career path, before she paused her ambitions to raise a family with her husband, Jeff. When the couple retired to San Antonio in 2013, she began creating a new line of food products.

“Having lived across the country, we had a large palate profile available in our products, but we found Texas was totally different,” she said. We had a few big hits, and we were selected as a finalist in H-E-B’s Quest for Texas Best competition, which brought our Alamo Beer mustard to more than 170 stores.”

Today, Deep River Specialty offers dozens of flavorful products — barbecue sauces, jams, jellies, gourmet mustards and even baked goods — designed to enhance the health and lifestyle of their customers. “We offer a variety of flavors that can be used in different ways and in everyday recipes, whether it’s a sandwich or sauce or pasta,” she said. I want [our products and work] to inspire the average family and young children to make delicious and healthy [dishes] for themselves.”

Oscar Perez, Tio Pelon’s Salsita
Architect Oscar Perez was in grad school and between jobs when he learned how to bottle homegrown produce and make salsitas — influenced by his Norteño heritage and a focus on bold, bright flavors.

“I really didn’t start this as a business, I was just playing around,” Perez said. The Tio Pelon brand has since grown to include tomatillo, cremosa, an “Emma” salsita named for his grandmother and a special black label chipotle — all of which can be found in stores throughout Texas. Look for Oscar, his line of salsitas and three new products (including a special glaze) at local farmers markets, stores and the 2019 Texas Salsa Festival.

“I want to create an international brand — bring it throughout the United States and into Mexico, and hopefully other countries around the world,” he said. “Right now we’re starting from this central point and expanding out.”

Francisco and Tomas Pergola, Cheddie’s
Brothers Francisco and Tomas Pergola dreamed of creating the perfect snack — savory, crunchy, and made with quality ingredients. Francisco, who previously worked with dialysis centers, noticed that patients would “resort to snacking to satisfy their hunger instead of a full meal,” he said.

Together, they tested and perfected Cheddie’s, a snack with high protein, low carbs and great taste. Cheddie’s is currently manufactured and found in stores outside of Texas, but the brothers are eager to make San Antonio their official headquarters. In the meantime, local snack fans can find an assortment of Cheddie’s flavors including cheddar, white cheddar, barbecue and garlic parmesan available for sale on Amazon.

“San Antonio has always been very opening to entrepreneurs and people with ideas, and the food culture here is amazing as well,” Francisco said. “We really want to bring it back home and just grow our business.”

Katie Danielson, Zen Monkey
Army veteran Katie Danielson was transitioning to civilian life in Los Angeles and looking for a new career when she met Eric Glandian, her future partner, in 2012. Together, the couple co-founded Zen Monkey, a company that specialized in overnight oats, a nutrient dense meal with oats, greek yogurt and fruit, without additives or artificial flavors.

“There’s some sort of [outlying perception] that healthy food is expensive or reserved for people who have the time to make big meals,”she said. “We wanted to make something that was accessible to everyone, financially accessible and better for you — better than a muffin or pop-tart or breakfast sandwich.”

After the 2016 H-E-B’s Quest for Texas Best competition, which helped to introduce the brand to major grocery stores including H-E-B, Publix and Hy-Vee, the couple relocated all business manufacturing operations to San Antonio.

“We do have some things in the works that we’re hoping [to roll out in 2019], but we’re really excited for our growth so far,” Danielson said.

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