Heber Springs resident spices up her second job

By Emily Van Zandt Originally Published November 8, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated November 7, 2012 at 10:19 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Curt Youngblood

Judy Balderree started Juju’s Kitchen in January and currently produces two styles of salsa and sweet dill pickles. Her products are in about 75 stores.

— Reaching age 50 may signal a midlife crisis for some, but Judy Balderree is more focused than ever.

The lifelong Heber Springs resident launched her own food-gifts line in January. Now, Juju’s Kitchen’s products are sold in around 75 stores in the Midwest. She’s hoping to hit 100 stores before her milestone birthday in February.

“I figured, I’m not getting any younger,” Balderree said. “I’ve always wanted something of my own.”

So she decided to do something many dream of doing, especially in this economy. Balderree turned a hobby into a profit-making side business.

After spending many years as a child putting up cans of tomatoes and green beans with her grandparents, Balderree had taken up canning on her own after she was married. Soon, it was on to homemade salsas and pickles. Her friends were raving.

“I’d hand them out as gifts, and people always wanted more,” Balderree said.

There’s something about a home-grown recipe that means more flavor, Balderree said. Thinking the flavors, local ties and vintage-inspired packaging might be a hit with gift stores and boutique grocers, she set out to make Juju’s Kitchen — the name comes from her longtime nickname — official.

An out-of-town co-packer was entrusted with Balderree’s recipes, taking on production and packaging of Picky People’s Pickles and Picky People’s Salsa for the company.

“There are so many regulations for selling things home-canned that this was really the best solution,” Balderree said.

The salsas may not be mixed in her own kitchen, but Balderree is still involved in the process, tasting samples along the way to ensure that everything is coming out the way she’d make it herself. She even drives to pick up her own stock to deliver. The jars of goods are sold in around 75 stores in Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Oklahoma.

In Heber Springs, the 16-ounce jars can be found for sale at Panache and Main Street Mall. The pickles go for $7.99, the salsa for $8.99. Other stores stocking her goods include Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Mo., and the Clinton Museum Store in Little Rock. Since January, she has sold about 7,000 jars of pickles and salsa combined.

“I’ll know it’s a success when my phone is ringing every day, … maybe every hour,” Balderree said of the company.

While she’s never owned her own business before, Balderree had a wealth of experience to draw from, thanks to her day job with Heber Springs-based home fragrance company Aromatique. She’s been working within the corporation for more than 25 years, recently taking on managing its Heber Springs store, Panache, as vice president and director of retail sales.

“Just being around the owners of Aromatique, you learn a lot about the retail side of things,” said Balderree, who has used many of her business contacts to help get her canned goods onto shelves. It doesn’t hurt that her boss can’t get enough of her salsa.

Thought Balderree had hoped to have her products in 100 stores by this time, she’s not worried about the company’s progress. She’s building the business slowly and steadily. She has plans to soon add dill pickles and a party snack mix to her roster of products.

For now, she’s focused on the holiday season. Production has already increased, and Balderree is hosting in-store tastings.

“All I usually have to do is go into a store, leave a sample and follow up in a few weeks,” Balderree said. “Really, everyone loves salsa!”

Picky People’s Mexican Soup

By Judy Balderree of Juju’s Kitchen

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 bunch chopped green onions

2 tablespoons flour

1 14-ounce can chicken broth

2 cups water with 2 teaspoons chicken-boullion granules

2 cups skim milk

1 cup Picky People’s Salsa

1 can refried beans

2 cups shredded chicken (fresh or canned)

3 tablespoons chopped pickled jalapenos

1 can chopped green chilies

1 teaspoon sea salt

Pepper to taste

Tortilla chips

Shredded cheese

Sour cream

Avocado slices

Directions:

Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and the green onion and sauté for five minutes. Add flour and stir well, cooking for 1 minute or more. Add the broth and water with bouillon granules and milk. Stir in the salsa, refried beans, chicken, jalapenos and green chilies. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring often. Crumble chips into bowl and top with soup. Garnish each with sour cream, cheese and avocado slices.

Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

Staff Writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at 501-399-3688 or emily@syncweekly.com.

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