FORT WORTH, Texas — A Texan's love of salsa is a respect for our elders, our heritage - our roots.
That’s why a sketch of Mrs. George Renfro, the matriarch of the Renfro family – graces the top of every jar. “You’re very conscious of the fact that this speaks for the whole family,” said Doug Renfro, president of Renfro Foods, which manufactures the wildly-popular Mrs. Renfro’s salsa.
Doug’s grandparents started selling spices out of their garage in 1940. They switched to syrup in the late 40s and opened a manufacturing facility in Fort Worth. When their sons took over, they began focusing on salsa.
And 78 years after that scrappy garage start-up, members of the third generation of Renfros are sometimes in awe at how much they’ve grown. “My grandmother had a desk about right here,” Doug said, giving a tour of his office, which is in the same facility his grandparents opened decades ago. The facility has expanded and walls have been moved, but several pictures of his ancestors still grace the wall.
“I keep thinking, ‘Oh they’re looking down on us!” said Doug’s cousin, Becky Renfro, vice president of Renfro Foods. “I remember going to church with them on Sunday, and we always went by the post office on Lancaster – the old post office in Fort Worth – to pick up to see what checks came in that week.”
She recalled times when her grandparents weren’t sure how to make ends meet. Things have definitely changed. “We’re the ninth biggest brand of salsa of over 600 tracked in the United States,” said Doug. They were also a finalist for a national award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
When asked how they did it, he said there’s no one key, but “perseverance and tenacity is more important than intelligence,” he said. “You can’t be an idiot, but you have to be so stubborn.”
Through the years, automation and innovation have aided the growth. “From 20 jars a minute to 135 now,” said James Renfro, Becky’s brother and another of Doug’s cousins. James is also a vice president, and he oversees production. “We can now manufacture about 50,000 jars a day – so that’s a lot of hot sauce.”
Mrs. Renfro’s salsa was one of the first companies to market the intensely hot ghost pepper salsa. It is so hot, they put up a caution sign when preparing it. Taste testing might sound fun, but Doug says it comes at a cost.
“I can tell you we just came out with a Carolina Reaper extra hot salsa, and that was not fun - it was strictly work,” he said. “I lost my sense of taste for about an hour each time!“
No secret recipe for building a booming family business could ever exist, but the Renfros do credit consistency and creativity. “I call it the roller coaster,” Doug said. “The highs are high the lows are low like a typical family business. We love seeing our family name on the product, but I’m going to be doing inventory this Friday – that’s not as fun.”
A family name, grandma’s picture and a jar of spicy salsa –sounds like Texas, all bottled up.