An Organic Plan

Rob Behnke Bowman '06, M.B.A. '07, is the CEO and co-founder of Brooklyn Salsa Co., which uses local, sustainable ingredients from farms like Hepworth Farms in Milton, N.Y.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011

There’s no doubt about it. Brooklyn Salsa is hot.

Featuring five different flavors – each one representing a different borough of New York City –the salsa is infused with local, sustainable ingredients with a global twist. Since the salsa debuted in 10 local Brooklyn stores in 2010, the company has earned a wide following, showing up on the pages of  Esquire, Martha Stewart Whole Living, and The New York Times, as well on the Cooking Channel’s Food(ography).

Like the ingredients in his product, the concept for Brooklyn Salsa grew rather organically, according to co-founder Rob Behnke Bowman’06, M.B.A. ’07.

After graduating from Rider in 2007, Behnke Bowman moved to Brooklyn, where he began selling online advertisement space by day, and becoming heavily involved in the music scene as a producer and drummer in his band, The Blue and Red, by night. The following year, he began splitting the rent with Matt Burns, who would eventually become his business partner.

Behnke Bowman would stage rock shows in the basement of their apartment in the borough’s Bushwick section. One night, while several bands gathered to play, Burns, a professional actor and vegan chef, went to the kitchen to make up some salsa for their guests. By the time the night was through, Behnke Bowman and Burns knew they had a great idea and flavor, which earned instant rave reviews from the visiting friends.

“We started blending sauce from the kitchen of our Brooklyn loft in April 2008,” Behnke Bowman remembers. “It became Brooklyn Salsa because we all lived in and love Brooklyn, and the names of the flavors were inspired by the five boroughs of New York City.”

For the next two years, while the cofounders were developing the business plan, every show that Behnke Bowman played was sponsored by Brooklyn Salsa. Eventually, their large scale production was moved to a facility in upstate New York and Brooklyn Salsa became a running company in June 2010.

While working on the business plan, Behnke Bowman said he relied on the strong business background he earned from his Marketing and Management studies at Rider. “That experience was a huge influence on my capabilities and my ability to start a business,” he said. “I was able to think about an idea and to follow through with it.

Behnke Bowman recalls developing a business plan as part of an independent study with Dr. Drew Procaccino, associate professor of Computer Information Systems, during his graduate days. He also gained experience abroad while participating in the international study tours through the College of Business Administration, when he had the opportunity to travel to Ireland, Prague and Italy.

Each Brooklyn Salsa flavor represents the diversity of each borough — The Pure (Manhattan), The Green (Staten Island); The Tropical (Queens), The Curry (Bronx); and The Hot (Brooklyn). The company also offers a seasonal salsa.

“We are a new generation of salsa makers,” said Behnke Bowman, who is also the company’s CEO. “Brooklyn Salsa inspires global flavor with local, sustainable ingredients.”

Behnke Bowman said what makes the product unique among its competitors is that it is made by using conscious methods, including direct trade, organic farmers and carbon neutral practices. In addition to providing business to local farms, Brooklyn Salsa has also teamed up with various community gardeners, community supported agriculture and public schools to create gardens on city rooftops, and in backyards and cement parks, transforming the streets of New York into what the company calls “a living, breathing, urban farm.”

Though tropical ingredients from Florida, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Sri Lanka are used, Brooklyn Salsa also allocates funds to aid cooperative farmland there, and proceeds from its seasonal salsa go toward various charities.

“It’s important to us as entrepreneurs to be socially responsible and not destroy the world we live in,” Behnke Bowman said. “Brooklyn Salsa just made sense. Here’s something that can be both productive and extremely ethical.

Behnke Bowman is currently working on their next big product line, which will not be chips but a completely new concept in the beverage world. 

“Four years later, I still include the salsa with every lunch,” he said. “That’s how I know my work is pure. I never get tired of our product.”

Brooklyn Salsa is available locally at Whole Foods in Princeton, N.J. Learn more about Brooklyn Salsa’s environmentally conscious approach to food at bksalsa.com.

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Brooklyn Salsa cofounder Rob Behnke Bowman (far right) says locally grown ingredients are part of what sets his brand apart.