The Bright Side of Business: Mom’s Homemade founder goes from salsa-making hobbyist to food entrepreneur

Cheryl Wilcox
Cheryl Wilcox is the founder of Mom's Homemade. (Photo by Don Wilcox)
Editor's Note

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The Bright Side of Business bimonthly column is presented by Star Motors.

By day, Cheryl Wilcox is an office manager for an Ottawa oral surgeon. At virtually all other times, she’s the founder of Mom’s Homemade, selling her popular salsa through Ottawa stores and markets.

Wilcox never dreamt of being a food entrepreneur – in fact, she even harbours a hatred for most forms of cooking. But almost two decades ago, she tried making salsa on a whim, following a colleague’s recipe recommendation. After some experimentation, Wilcox found her signature style, which her friends and family adored.

Salsa-making quickly became a family affair. Every September, Wilcox and her daughter would make several batches for their loved ones.

“We'd start on a Friday and we'd make probably 16 big pots of it,” Wilcox recalls. “My whole dining room table was just covered in salsa.”

At first, Wilcox was hesitant about selling her salsa, despite frequent requests. Then, during Christmas 2018, one of her sons told her that her salsa was all the rage at a party he’d thrown. “‘At one o'clock (in the morning), all people were talking about was your salsa, and how good it is,’” Wilcox says, retelling her son’s story.

Within a few short weeks, Wilcox decided to launch her business, picking Jan. 19 as her start date – her daughter’s birthday. By February 2019, she was making Mom’s Homemade salsa in the commercial kitchen of Mrs. McGarrigle's Fine Food Shop in Merrickville. 

Ready to hustle

Wilcox gave herself two years to see if Mom’s Homemade would succeed – and succeed it did. What started off as a hobby is now a steadily growing business, with products selling in Ottawa, London, Ont., Quebec and even Manitoba. 

“It got so busy that I couldn't keep up with making it myself,” Wilcox says. Now, Mom’s Homemade is partnered with North House Foods in Ottawa, a natural foods manufacturer.

“It's still hand-chopped, fresh vegetables,” Wilcox says. “They chop everything, can it and label it. I pick it up and distribute it to all my stores.”

Mom's Homemade

Mom’s Homemade has four specialities, ranging from mild to hot, with the extra-spicy blend dubbed, “Mom’s Wrath.” Along with spices, the recipe uses garlic, Roma tomatoes, zucchini, red and green pepper, red onion and celery. 

“The big seller is that there's no sugar and no preservatives, because that's a big thing for everybody right now,” Wilcox says. However, she says, the mix of vegetables gives the salsa a natural sweetness that her customers love. “I don't know how I do it,” Wilcox says. “It's some kind of magical thing.”

Eating local

It isn’t just the cooking that’s magical: Wilcox says that her sales doubled during COVID-19.

“It's because everybody decided to start buying local,” she explains. “A lot of stores have decided (to sell local products), and that's really put a lot of movement on my products.”

As with any new venture, there were some learning curves along the way, such as knowing which hot peppers are available in which seasons, or what to include on product jars. However, with the guidance of other local food entrepreneurs – and a few online courses – Wilcox is now up-to-date with everything from shelf-life testing to Canadian-standard food labels. 

Next on Wilcox’s list is an expansion to western Ontario, as well as possibly selling Mom’s Homemade at a large chain store.

“I'm really hoping to double or triple (sales) from what I did last year,” Wilcox says. “I'm very optimistic about where we're going.”

The Bright Side of Business is an editorial feature focused on sharing positive stories of business success.

This column is presented by Star Motors, Ottawa’s original Mercedes-Benz, Mercedes-AMG and Mercedes Van dealer.

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