Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
As an immigrant from Mexico at 17 and with no work experience or even a high school diploma, Maharba Zapata could never have imagined what her future in the U.S. would look like.
She didn't know that she would lose her first baby to leukemia at 19 months old, or that she'd learn English from all the time she spent at Primary Children's Hospital.
She didn't know that she'd be a single mother of seven children with no way to support them.
But she also never could have imagined that she'd one day be the owner of an extremely successful salsa company — and that she'd legally change her name to "Salsa Queen" because of it.
Her story has inspired countless people and now she's sharing her keys to success.
Do what you love
Albert Schweitzer famously said, "Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful." The Salsa Queen is proof that this is true.
Zapata could've supported herself and her seven children in any number of ways, but she found success by choosing something she felt passionate about. At the suggestion of her then-boyfriend Jim Birch (who's now her husband), she decided to focus on her love of food.
"In my culture, we feed people out of love," she told The Family Cookbook. "That's our way to show our love and our appreciation with old friendships and family. It's the food that really brings people together everywhere."
After trying her hand at selling European pastries, Zapata switched gears and started focusing on something more familiar to her culture: salsa.
Most people's success stories don't happen overnight. They usually spring from small, consistent acts that lead to bigger opportunities.
For the Salsa Queen, everything started with the decision to sell 40 containers of her homemade salsa on Facebook. After quickly selling out of those, she and her children started lugging larger quantities of her salsa to local farmers markets. Once again, it was a huge hit. That led to her doing cooking segments on TV and eventually convincing local grocery markets to carry the Salsa Queen brand.
Now, her products have flooded stores around the western part of the country and recently started heading east, all the way to Florida. None of it would have happened if she hadn't taken that first small step.
Don't be afraid of hard work
Being a gifted salsa maker was one thing, but Zapata's empire would never have flourished without plenty of hard work.
In the beginning, her main help came from her seven children, who spent hours chopping ingredients, assembling containers and delivering them around the valley to word-of-mouth customers. And her determination to never take "no" for an answer is what ultimately led to the mass distribution of her salsa in local stores and beyond.
Ask for help
When you're trying to grow a business or start something new, there's always a lot to learn. Zapata has a simple piece of advice for anyone who feels overwhelmed in those circumstances.
"Ask for help. It might be difficult to ask for help, but you will be pleasantly surprised at the available resources entrepreneurs have," she stated in an interview with the Governor's Office of Economic Opportunity. "Learn from others. Find mentors, groups and organizations that can help you ask the right questions."
Dream big dreams
Another lesson the Salsa Queen has learned is that it's important to continue to grow, progress and even shoot for the moon — literally. After expanding to bigger and bigger kitchens over the years, Zapata's next stop might just be outer space. Birch, who also acts as General Manager for Salsa Queen, dreams of being the official salsa of Elon Musk's SpaceX with their recently developed portable, freeze-dried versions of the famous salsa.
Zapata credits Birch for encouraging her to take a leap with her own dreams.
In an article for the Deseret News last year, Zapata said, "I tell him, 'Thank you for giving me the wings to fly,' and he says, 'You had them all along, you just had to realize it.' We all have the wings. It just takes somebody to believe in us and to grab us by the hand and give us a little kick and there you go."
Now that you know what led to the business's success, it's time to give Salsa Queen a try if you haven't already. You can find their products online or at your local grocery store. Just look for that iconic sugar skull-branded container.