A little over a year ago, Katy Times managing editor Claire Goodman interviewed the Johansson family: three brothers that were selling their homemade salsa at farmer’s markets, an Ace Hardware store, and Whiskey Cake restaurant.
The brothers, Aydin, age 17, Luke, age 14 and George, age 12, along with their mother, Traci make their own “Diablo Verde” creamy cilantro salsa from a family recipe. Not long after Katy Times reported the story, Diablo Verde began gaining traction in the state. On Aug. 8, Diablo Verde won the grand prize in H-E-B’s Quest for Texas Best competition, earning the family $25,000 and the distinction of being the best new food in the state. After their big win, Katy Times sat down with the family to talk about the family’s journey and what the future holds for the Johansson family. (Editor’s note: the interview has been edited for length.)
Q: Let’s start with where we left off a year ago. We met on July 1st. After we talked, you guys got picked up at a couple different stores.
Traci: Oh my gosh, I know, it feels like a lot longer. In August, we won the “Awesome Sauce” award in a really well-known and well-respected salsa festival, and after that, we got into two McKinney stores and four Austin stores, so that was really helpful.
In late October, we were picked up by our first H-E-B. Katy rocks- they requested us by name from Randall, the manager, and they asked him to carry us. And he reached out and said that people had requested us, so he decided to give us a chance. So we proved ourselves at that location, and it kind of snowballed from that.
Q: So tell me about this competition you won.
George: Basically any food from Texas can compete, but it has to be from Texas, and it has to be a small business. So we applied. We made the top 20, which is huge because there were 825 participants. We presented, and then they chose the four top people: first-place, second-place, third-place and grand prize, which we won.
Q: What was that like, the process of going through that?
Ayden it was pretty crazy. I was pretty nervous.
George: At first I didn't know it was going to happen. But after we made the top 20, I thought we had a pretty good chance of winning at least first or second place. But we won it all.
Ayden: We won $25,000 and a trophy
Traci: One thing I've always done: if you have a goal, you visualize it and see yourself in that. And so that's what I did. I changed the password on my computer to “25,000” and things like that.
Aydin: You just told everyone your password. Now you need to change your password.
George: Change it to your new goal of 100,000.
Q: If I may ask, what are you going to do with that $25,000?
Traci: It goes straight back into the business.
Q: Without telling me your new password, what's your next vision for Diablo Verde?
Traci: Basically H-E-B has offered to put us in more stores. We’ll be getting in many more stores by October. As of today, we’ve sold over 23,000 jars of Diablo Verde. Now we want to bring in other products. We're developing a vegan recipe, and we'd also like to come out with some frozen dishes.
Q: So boys, what are your main jobs in the company, now that you’ve hired a commercial packer.
George: I'm the head of social media and marketing.
Ayden: I’m the head of sales and shipping.
Luke: I do all the heavy lifting, literally. I lift all the boxes and move them back and forth. I also count them and make sure they're not destroyed and make sure the inventory is all OK.
Q: One of the things that we talked about, Traci, the first time we met is that, as a mom, you want to make sure they still have normal childhoods.
Traci: They do, but at the same time this summer was more demanding on them. They had to sacrifice more this summer.
Q: Boys, when we talked before, you guys mentioned that a lot of your friends know that you make salsa. Now that you've become really successful, has that changed at all?
Luke: It's kind of hard to talk about it because it sounds like you're bragging. “What did you do this weekend?” “Oh, I played Call of Duty for four hours.” “Oh, I won $25,000.”
George: It's a little weird. Today was the first day of school, and a kid in my science class looked at me and said, “Hey, aren't you the kid that won all that money? You’re famous.”
Ayden: Right after we won, we came back and got our schedules for school, and I was still wearing my Diablo Verde shirt. And one of the kids on the cross-country team was like, “Are you the one that makes that salsa?” And I was like, “Yeah”, and he said, “Oh, I really like it.”
Traci: One thing I've noticed is that when they're with their friends, they're just like normal kids. They talk about video games and what teachers they have in school. And that's important, because they're just kids.
Q: What's that like, being a family that’s also business partners?
Traci: They’re brothers, so there's times where they'll get upset with each other and want to fight. But you know, we're in front of a panel of judges or out in public. So you can’t hit or fight. But that did happen. One brother hit the other brother in public.
Luke: We were holding the giant check, and they told me to put it down, and I didn’t hear them. I held it up, and I hit George on the nose. So he slapped me in the side of the head while people were taking pictures of us.
Traci: Everyone had these looks on their faces, like, "Wow, the perfect kids just became real." Because they’re still brothers, right?