How a man bottled his love for salsa and his hometown
John Collins wears his Galveston-born pride not on his sleeve, but on his right-hand pinky in the form of a bronze ring with block letters avowing he was BOI, local code for Born on the Island.
And he runs a photography studio called BOI Images.
So, it’s no surprise that the logo branding another of his endeavors, J.C.’s Salsa, proudly notes that it, too, was born on the island.
For more than a year, when Collins wasn’t working shifts as a Port of Galveston police officer, or taking island-centric photos, he was, batch after batch, perfecting his salsa.
He would present jarful samples of each batch to his research and development team — that being his more epicurean friends, such as Concetta Maceo, who runs the family’s nearly 75-year-old company, Maceo Spice & Import Co. in downtown Galveston.
“My friends would try it and make recommendations: ‘a little more cilantro,’ or ‘a little more garlic,’ and I’d try out their suggestions with the next batch,” Collins said. “After a year of working at it, finally it got to the point where one day Concetta said, ‘You should be selling this!’
“I appreciated her saying that, but I didn’t think it would sell.”
How wrong he was.
Today, J.C.’s Salsa is available solely at the venerable Maceo Spice & Import Co.
“It just flies off the shelf,” said Maceo, who is the operations manager at the family-owned store and deli, which opened its doors in 1944. “I literally can’t keep it in stock.”
Perhaps it is an emblem of Collins’ salsa perfectionism that he provides Maceo no more than a case or two of his product each month.
“I make a gallon or two a month, that’s it,” he said. “I want it to be perfect.”
The salsa has a decided piquancy that sets it apart, a certain eloquence in how its flavors — tomatoes, onions, garlic, jalapeño and serrano peppers, cilantro, carrots, chipotle, cumin, lemon juice and proprietary spices — merge in the pot, and on the palate.
J.C.’s Salsa is hearty and full-bodied, its flavors intermingled and, yet, individually discernible.
The blend came about because of a similar mixture, one of passion and serendipity.
“Plain and simple, I’ve loved chips and salsa since I was a kid, when I’d go through a whole jar of Pace in one sitting,” Collins said. “But your taste buds develop. I grew tired of Pace and eventually I got tired of everything else on the shelf.”
Then arrived providence.
“There was a guy who used to sell burritos at the port, and he’d always throw in a small container of his salsa,” Collins said. “It was so good, I mean it was great.
“So, one day I asked him if he would tell me how to make it, and he did.”
Yet, as great as it was, Collins convinced himself he could take it to another level.
“I spent a year experimenting,” he said. “That’s half the fun, working on how to roast the ingredients, how to chop them. I started out with a regular old blender, working on the right settings, and then advanced to a Ninja Blender.”
Today, he performs his magic in Maceo’s kitchen after hours, and there, too, his salsa is preserved — with natural ingredients — bottled and labeled.
Jars of J.C.’s Salsa share pride of place atop the main counter at Maceo’s, alongside the shop’s famed Olive Salad and Tomato Gravy.
“I like to support islanders who make a great product,” Maceo said, and then offered up an unsolicited endorsement. “I use it religiously. I just love it.”