By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News
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At 18, he left his home state of Nayarit, Mexico, and went north to Southern California, where he toiled in restaurants and dreamed of a better life.
In these restaurants, Jose recalls, the salsa was “really bad.”
So of course he started making his own. Hot, the way he likes it.
Then Jose encountered a woman who also enjoys her salsa muy caliente. When they met, she was a waitress and he a cook at Chili’s in Torrance, Calif.
Ask Angee and Jose Garcia, originators of Jose’s Famous Salsa of Sequim, what first struck each about the other, and they toss in a piquant ingredient: humor.
“He was a pain . . . Loud and obnoxious, and I liked it,” quips Angee, sitting beside her husband in what is about to become their own taqueria in downtown Sequim.
“I wanted to learn English,” Jose adds with a smile.
That was 15 years ago. The Garcias’ 14th wedding anniversary is coming this spring: April 21, Angee says; let me write that down, says Jose.
In 2005, when their first child, son Sage, was almost ready for kindergarten, the Garcias decided to pack up and move to the North Olympic Peninsula. Angee’s mother had been interested in relocating to Sequim, and though she later decided to stay in California, Angee, Jose and Sage left the traffic and crowded schools behind.
“I didn’t want Sage to be in a class with 40 kids,” recalls Angee.
Their son is 12 now, and he has a sister, 9-year-old Abby. Around here, their parents are famous like the name says.
Back when they made salsa in the commercial kitchen at the Sequim Boys & Girls Club circa 2010, Angee and Jose produced and sold about 50 gallons a week.
Today, that’s more than 200 gallons of mild, medium, hot and “crazy hot,” plus tamales, ceviche and guacamole from their own kitchen at 126 E. Washington St.
How many tamales do they make by hand in a week? Jose estimates 120.
“This is nothing,” he adds.
In one of their recent fundraisers for the Sequim Middle School Parent-Teacher-Student Association, the Garcias assembled 1,700 tamales over three days.
They put the word out that sales would start at
3 p.m. Dec. 12 at the Washington Street kitchen. Buyers showed up outside the door by
Angee reports that Jose’s Famous Salsa raised $4,400 for the PTSA that day.
“It’s a comfort food,” she says, adding that salsa sales don’t fluctuate much between summer and winter here.
Jose is busier than ever, selling his specialties at markets and grocery stores from Poulsbo to Port Townsend to the West End. And as he and Angee prepare to open the Jose’s Famous Salsa taqueria — a taco-burrito-tamale bar — Jose has stopped working his day job at Westport Shipyard.
Coworkers there were among the first on the Peninsula to discover his natural ability in the kitchen. Jose would bring his salsa to parties; people would rave about it, just as they did back in California; then they told him he ought to be in business.
Jose says he learned by doing; he had enough bad salsa at those restaurants in the Los Angeles area to know what not to do. And in spring 2010, he began selling pints of the deep-red sauce at the Sequim Open Aire Market, the Saturday farmers market that spreads out on Cedar Street from May through October.
Appetites for Jose’s Famous Salsa were vigorous there — and at two more farmers markets. Jose and Angee juggled them all, selling salsa and tamales in Sequim, at the Poulsbo Saturday market and at the Port Angeles Farmers Market at Front and Lincoln streets.
Groceries were next. The Red Rooster, 1341/2 W. Washington St. in Sequim, was one of the first stores to carry Jose’s, having opened around the same time the Garcias started their venture.
Like Jose’s Famous Salsa, the Red Rooster is locally owned by a married couple, Lisa Boulware and Mark Ozias, who moved to Sequim to start fresh.
Sequim’s own salsa, Ozias says, did not take long to catch fire.
“It’s been popular from Day One,” he says, adding that the Red Rooster sells around 30 Jose’s Famous quarts each week.
“There are many people who think it’s the best salsa in the world.”
What makes it so good?
“Jose makes it so good,” is Ozias’ instant reply.
Besides the Red Rooster, Jose has brought his salsa into Aldrich’s and the Food Co-op in Port Townsend, McPhee’s, IGA and Country Aire in Port Angeles, both Hardy’s markets in Sequim, the Longhouse in Blyn and the Sunsets West Co-op in Clallam Bay, among other stores.
Now, the Garcias are about to introduce yet another Mexican tradition: the taqueria. The little restaurant next door to Over the Fence is to open around the first of March.
“We want to make it cheap and good,” says Angee.
The place will have a chalkboard menu, a salsa bar and six tables for lunch and supper Tuesdays through Saturdays, the Garcias figure.
Angee plans to keep her job as a paraeducator at Helen Haller Elementary School. She works in the developmental preschool there.
As for opening the taqueria’s doors, Angee is for proceeding slowly and carefully. She and her husband also believe in giving, whenever possible, to other local organizations.
“We like to sponsor a lot of sports and charities,” Angee says, such as Queen of Angels Catholic School and the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula.
“You’ve got to give back to the community,” adds Jose.
Holding fundraisers and sponsoring teams is how the Garcias support the local economy. Jose would like to buy his salsa ingredients from local farmers, but he’s found that to be prohibitively expensive.
There’s another key ingredient he uses in large quantities.
“This is a lot of work. We started at the farmers’ market, and that’s a commitment. You’ve got to be there, every Saturday in the rain or the snow,” Jose says.
“You have to have faith in what you’re doing. That’s the first step.”
The local community has been good to this family, Angee and Jose agree. In their eight years in Sequim, the Garcias have found a strong sense of belonging. They work a lot, but they also make time for friendships.
“I love our friends here,” says Angee.
How did those friendships form?
“Oh, I’m a chatty one,” Angee replies.
“We gave them salsa,” adds Jose.