Cudahy family-owned business 'Mama's Boy Salsa' thrives through challenges

On an early Monday morning in Cudahy, the smell of fresh onions, tomatillos and tomatoes fills the air inside Mama’s Boy Salsa.

For nearly a decade, the family-owned salsa company has thrived on dishing out hand-cut, fresh salsa to its customers. The Cudahy-based business now has more than three dozen accounts, including restaurants, grocers and other businesses; its success is far from its humble beginnings.

"I sold a case of salsa at Mayfair Mall before my shift at US Cellular," said owner and founder Chris Koncki. "I walked around, sold 12 jars and got rid of all of them and was super excited about that."

Twelve cases seems like nothing now for Koncki, after just delivering 70 cases in one week to its newest and biggest client, Wisconsin-based Sendiks.

"Having those successes and seeing that growth and seeing those numbers change has been amazing," said Koncki, who is now in his eighth year of business.

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Koncki went into business with his mom, Pat, after the two couldn’t believe the cost of salsa at the grocery store. They knew they could do it better and make it fresh — something they felt was missing from the salsa scene.

That missing ingredient would quickly become Mama’s Boy Salsa.

"He had a dream and I wanted to support him in that," said Pat. 

The move felt natural for the Koncki family, who have roots in the Cudahy community. Pat’s mother worked at the local bank, her father was a police detective, one brother was a firefighter and another brother, Mike, owned a dental practice. Building a family business in a community they believed in — was always top of mind.

But their first few years in business would bring challenges they had never imagined.

‘That’s the moment it happened’

 It was Thanksgiving of 2018 when Pat, Chris and their families received devastating news.

"I thought when my mom passed away unexpectedly, it was the worst thing I was going to go through in my life," said Pat. "When Mike was in the accident, I just didn’t know how to handle it. It was very, very hard."

Pat’s brother, Dr. Mike Shimeta, had hundreds of patients in Cudahy during his decades as a dentist. His family says he was known for relieving the debt of his patients, being a good businessman and his love of the outdoors.

It was that love of the outdoors that took him up north on Thanksgiving Day that year; a plan to go hunting with family. It was a route that he had taken many times before, but this time would be his last.

Near US 10 and County Highway B in Portage County, a car with a trailer lost control, rolled through the median, landing directly on Shimeta’s car, going the opposite direction.

"One second this way or one second that way, whatever the plan was for Mike, that’s the moment that it happened," said Pat.

Shimeta died that day at 61-years-old and six months before he was set to retire from his practice in Cudahy.

"I have taken it upon myself mentally to live how he lived," said Chris through tears. "It’s hard because you want to do it as good as he did it, but he set a high standard too."

Healing came in an unexpected way for the Konckis one year after Shimeta’s death, as his family was looking to do something with the empty dental practice.

"We looked at this and said, man, it would be great to continue our family business and his family business like that," said Chris.

Chris knew he’d need help and his family and close friends did just that; renovating the old dental practice into a kitchen production area and retail space. The team came together to do all the construction and painting themselves, when the family was dealt another blow by COVID-19.

"We bought a building for people to come into, and now we can’t bring people into the building," Chris said. "It was incredibly tough. A lot of tears and frustration."

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The family business persisted and so did the whole team. With Pat and Chris at the helm, the whole family threw their support behind the effort; Pat’s husband helping with construction, Chris’ wife as a business partner, and family and friends helping with production.

In the springtime of 2022, Mama’s Boy Salsa added a new layer to the family business; the addition of Market 30 — a retail storefront that features Wisconsin-based products. The growth was not only good for business but a way for them to give back to other businesses that had supported them.

"They’ve seen us grow from no label on the jar to being in Sendiks," said Chris. "It’s a pretty exciting time in the pathway of our business."

A business they both say has even more meaning, because of who worked in those walls before them.

"In so many ways, he’s shown a lot of us he hasn’t really left completely," Pat said of her brother, Mike. 

At any given time, you can find Chris’ in-laws working the front desk, "Mama" Pat overseeing production of salsa and dips and his wife, Sam, coordinating samplings at local farmers markets. Chris is often on the road meeting with clients, potential new clients and making samples and deliveries.

"It’s not the current money in our pockets now, it’s — we can build a future for my kids and grandkids," said Chris. "I think that’s the thing that’s helped push all of our motivations."

You can find Mama’s Boy Salsa in 14 Sendiks locations; it's served as a dipping sauce with an Anytime Arepa dish at American Family Field, with chips at 1840 Brewing and several other locations.

"I think Mike would sit there and go, you’re doing it the right way, financially, I don’t care what you’re making, that’s not important to me," said Chris. "You’re doing it the way you should. You’re doing it with quality and doing it with care and I think that’s the most important way to run a business."