Don Roberto, a Nayarit native who started a now-famous salsa business 70 years ago with just 40 pesos in his pocket, died last weekend at the age of 86.
The history of Salsa Huichol can be traced back to 1949 when a 16-year-old Roberto López Flores was laid off from his bricklaying job and received 40 pesos in severance pay.
The teenager decided to take a gamble on a family recipe, using the money to buy five kilos of chiles and a manual grinder that he would use to make a salsa that he originally called Salsa Cora.
From an inauspicious beginning, López gradually grew the business, incorporated the use of machinery and changed the name of his brand to Salsa Huichol.
In recent years, production increased to 4,000 boxes per day of hot sauces that are shipped across Mexico and to the United States, Canada and Europe. The company uses about 800 tonnes of chiles a year.
Despite the growth, Don Roberto told the newspaper El Universal a few years ago that he still liked to do things in the old-fashioned way that he learned from his father and grandfather.
For many years, López would personally deliver Salsa Huichol to retailers in Nayarit and nearby states. Initially small stores were the only retailers that would stock the salsa but major supermarket chains such as Walmart and Comercial Mexicana later recognized the demand for the product and placed it on their shelves.
López’s death marks the end of an era but his legacy will live on, Salsa Huichol said in a Facebook post on Sunday that announced the passing of its founder.
“Seventy years ago, Don Roberto López began writing a story that redefined the flavors of his native Nayarit and all of Mexico. Today we honor his memory, we bid him farewell as the great man he was and celebrate the immense legacy that he leaves us with Salsa Huichol. Rest in peace, Don Roberto,” the post said.
News of his death triggered an outpouring of emotion on social media.
“The residents of Nayarit lament the death of Don Roberto López, a businessman of this land that created my favorite salsa: the Salsa Huichol,” state lawmaker Geraldine Ponce wrote on Twitter.
“Nayarit is in mourning,” said Nayarit Senator Cora Cecilia Pinedo.
“Roberto López Flores, creator of Salsa Huichol, which has given us [Nayarit natives] . . . recognition in all of Mexico and abroad is no longer with us.”