An abundant home garden in Ayden and the advice of a friend helped lauch La Rita Johnson’s popular Alarita Gourmet Foods and its line of locally-grown salsas, jams, jellies and specialty items.
Her growing company also helps her express herself through her work. “The love of being in the kitchen, and the love of creating. I love to create the flavors, and new recipes. That’s me. It’s so much fun,” she says.
About nine years ago the family started making salsas because their garden was producing more than they could consume, she recalls.
“We just did it because we could not eat everything that was coming out of the garden and we didn’t want it to go to waste. A friend suggested we make salsas.”
La Rita quickly learned that people prefer healthy food. “We did learn that there are a lot of people out there who are really conscientous about what they eat and eating good, fresh products. We still find that today.”
And freshness is the difference between Alarita Gourmet Foods’ products and “store bought” versions, La Rita points out. “Fresh is the difference. If it doesn’t sell on Saturday, I am canning it on Sunday. It does not just sit around, it goes right into the jar. We do not use preservatives.”
Visitors to farmers’ markets in Pitt County, New Bern or Cedar Point (southeast of Jacksonville) are familiar with her salsa line that includes (among others): Mild Salsa, Medium Salsa, Spicy Black Bean Salsa. Or her jellies: Peach Pepper Jelly, Pineapple Pepper, Raspberry Pepper, Strawberry Pepper and more. Her specialty items include Habenero Mango Sauce, Caramelized Onion Jam and Dry Rub.
Her personal favorites are the Mild Salsa and Spicy Black Bean. “I absolutely love it (Mild Salsa). I cook with it all the time and it’s great on chips.
A customer favorite, she says, is the Pineapple Peach. “They can put it on chips, they can put it on meat or on salads.”
Creating new recipes and products is about a 3-4 week process she says, adding “we have a lot of taste testers,” referring Doug, her husband and children Ryan and Karlie.
What’s next for her company? “I would love to take it across the United States, even international,” she says. To that end, she plans on launching a web store so her products can be purchased online and make her products available in retail outlets.
A Washington state native, La Rita migrated west to Illinois and worked in the family print shop. She and Doug moved to Eastern North Carolina as a career move and lived in Winterville prior to settling in Ayden.
Alarita Gourmet Foods also provides products for events and wholsale distribution. For additional information, call 252-814-1627 or visit www.alarita.com. Or just say hello at one of the farmers’ markets and take home your mix-and-match selection of her excellent fresh salsas, jams and jellies.