The name of Woodbury resident Dave Merten’s 8-year-old salsa company, SnappyDog Salsa, started as a family joke. While snorkeling on vacation, Dave’s son saw a dog snapper fish and was so excited he flubbed the fish’s name. Everyone agreed that “Snappy Dog” would be a great name for a restaurant or a brand, so when Dave’s salsa-making hobby became a full-fledged business, SnappyDog Salsa was born.
Dave, who owned a car lot and had been using his wife Maurine’s family recipe to make salsa for family and friends in his spare time, decided to switch careers after he started selling his salsa at the St. Paul Farmers Market, where it met with rave reviews. After buyers from Lunds & Byerlys tried it, the store became the first retailer to carry SnappyDog Salsa. From there, “we just kept getting busier and busier,” Dave says. “I jump in to everything I do with both feet. I was cooking, marketing, selling, doing everything.”
Today, SnappyDog’s tomato salsas are available at more than 100 stores, including several co-ops in the Twin Cities and select Lunds & Byerlys, Hy-Vee, Jerry’s Foods and Whole Foods locations. Items from the company’s expanded line of products, which includes fruit-flavored salsas, seasonings and margarita mixes, are available online, at the St. Paul and Woodbury Farmers Markets and at various food festivals and fairs throughout the year.
Though the ingredients are no longer grown exclusively in the Mertens’ backyard, “we buy from local farmers and try to keep everything as local as possible,” Dave says. “You can pronounce everything on the label and know what it is.”
SnappyDog Salsa is a family effort. The Mertens’ daughter Jackie, who was 8 years old when the company launched, came up with the initial label design, and their two sons currently work for the company, one in marketing and the other in a production role. Maurine oversees the company’s nonprofit organization, the Quarter Jar Charity, which puts 25 cents from every product purchased on their website into an account to help fund pancreatic disease research and treatment.
Diagnosed at age 2 with hereditary pancreatitis, Jackie Merten was “in and out of hospitals for many years,” says Maurine, who lost her brother to complications from surgery he’d undergone to address his pancreatitis. There is no cure for this painful disease, which causes chronic inflammation in the organ that produces digestive enzymes, and can lead to diabetes and pancreatic cancer.
The Mertens started the Quarter Jar Charity in 2010 to raise money for the research efforts at the University of Minnesota Medical Center and to aid families with members undergoing treatment at the Masonic Children’s Hospital, where Jackie underwent endoscopic treatments to help manage her illness. “We wanted to tie this family business to giving back,” Maurine says. “The teams of doctors at the hospital have been phenomenal. They truly gave our daughter her life back.”
In addition to the proceeds from online sales, Maurine says they hope to build funds for the Quarter Jar Charity in new ways, from adding a “donate” button to the SnappyDog Salsa website to partnering with the University of Minnesota to staff a concession stand at a sporting event, with the proceeds going to the Masonic Children’s Hospital.
Now 16, Jackie takes daily enzyme supplements and still needs periodic hospital visits to clear out her pancreas, but because of the efforts of her doctors she is “doing extremely well,” Dave says. “She’s on the Woodbury High School competitive cheerleading team and she’s a straight-A student.”
Though Jackie will always have a place in the family SnappyDog business, she has her sights set in a different direction and is ‘looking to become a pediatric oncologist,” Maurine says.
QUARTER JAR CHARITY EVENT
SnappyDog Salsa will host a special fundraising event at the Woodbury Farmers Market on October 2 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Proceeds from the sale of chili, made with their chili seasoning, will go to the Quarter Jar Charity. For more information on the event, as well as the full range of SnappyDog products, visit the website here.