For 20 some years, Mary Perez has made the best fresh enchilada sauce that her family and friends have ever had. It is so good, they told her she needed to package and sell it.
She finally listened to them and in March set out to get her sauce to market. She developed a business plan and found a manufacturer that can also help with distribution.
Perez's Enchiladas Olé is available at Roy Pope Grocery in Fort Worth and should be in Central Market stores on Hulen Street in Fort Worth and Lovers Lane in Dallas by month's end.
"The smell alone entices people," Perez said of her sauce. "It's an authentic, rich aroma."
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Perez's push to sell her sauce in grocery stores has an altruistic twist. She wants to use some of her profits to help feed the homeless.
"I see so much need," said Perez, who volunteers with programs aimed at helping the homeless in Fort Worth. She works full time in marketing for a local hospital.
Another goal is to get more families to make fresh meals at home and sit down together to eat dinner. Her sauce will allow for that.
The sauce, made from ancho chili juice, pepper, chili powder, garlic and a few other basic ingredients, needs to be refrigerated and should be used quickly. There are no preservatives.
"There's just not a whole lot of selection ... in fresh Mexican," foods in the stores, said Perez, 45, a single mother with three sons. "I'm going to be the first one to come out with this. All you do is heat this up, add a cup of water and heat your tortillas."
Tom O'Brien, Central Market's business development manager for cheese and deli, said Perez is pioneering a new food category. He said he couldn't think of any other available fresh, refrigerated enchilada sauce.
Central Market likes to feature locally made products whenever possible, but it was Perez's enthusiasm and passion that won him over, he said.
"It blew me away," O'Brien said of the first time he tasted her sauce. "I've tasted a lot of enchilada sauce since I've been in Texas seven years. Hers has the most unique flavor profile."
Until now, Perez has used a commercial kitchen to bottle jars of sauce. Heritage Family Specialty Foods in Grand Prairie has agreed to make and distribute the sauce. Heritage designs and manufactures specialty foods, including the Country Living Collection of foods and mixes.
Michael Moss, Heritage's vice president of marketing, said his company took on Perez right away. She falls into the growing "head start homemade category," which includes products that reduce prep time at home, he said.
"It's a unique time in the marketplace as more people are eating at home," Moss said. "She has a great product, and she has such a dynamic entrepreneurial spirit. We have little doubt her product will be a success."
Enchiladas Olé should be in other stores in about six to eight weeks, he said.
Perez, who grew up in Fort Worth and now lives in Saginaw, learned to cook from her parents -- her mother is from Spain, and her father is Mexican-American -- but over the years she perfected her recipe. She said there is no secret ingredient. Rather, it's the amount of spices and how you cook them that makes it special.
"It's a product that will sell itself, it is so good," she said.
Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727