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Salsa Kings Rule Area Farmers Markets

La Fiesta Móvil Salsa—named after Hemingway's "The Moveable Feast"—is a life-changer, says partner Craig Marsch. Customers rave about the spicy dish.

At least one loyal fan eats La Fiesta Móvil Salsa straight from the container.

“It will change your life!” Craig Marsch, a partner in the local salsa company, told customers lining up at his stall at the Riviera Village Farmers Market in Redondo Beach on Friday.

Silly as it may sound, the salsa—much of which is made fresh on the spot—has become something of a phenomenon. Some say they're addicted.

Customer Jo Ortiz—who “lives right around the block” from Avenue I, where the Redondo farmers market is held every Friday from 3-7 p.m.—has come every week for two months, he said.

“I usually get two large (containers),” the ExxonMobil Refinery worker explained. “I have it probably for dinner three times a week.” He uses it on eggs, Mexican food, rice and more.

Marsch, 36, whose buoyant personality and lavish smile make him a born salesman, grinned at Ortiz: “This guy and his roommates, they have gallon containers that they bring here, so I give them a little discount, like six bucks off. Their refrigerator is packed with salsa.”

“It’s the best salsa I’ve ever had,” said Ortiz, who often gobbles the stuff a la carte. “I realize I’m full now; I don’t even need dinner.”

The salsa recipe, originated 10 years ago by Marsch’s partner, Manhattan Beach resident Dick Gaines, 66, includes fresh and canned tomatoes, onions, scallions, jalapeño poppers, cilantro, garlic, diced avocadoes, black beans, brown sugar and vinegar.

Gaines, whose work in restaurants like the Chart House and Tequila Willy’s stretches back 30 years, said the recipe evolved over time. “As you probably know, most of the guys who work in (restaurant kitchens) are Mexican or Latino, and everybody has their own version of salsa,” he explained.

Since crews loved to outdo each other, Gaines began collecting various ideas, which he would try out at parties, he said. His wife, Carolyn, a first-grade teacher in Long Beach, gave it a thumbs-up.

“Finally, I came up with this one formula that was really popular and everybody loved it," Gaines said. "People started telling me, ‘You’ve got to sell this; this is too good.’”

At the time, Gaines was thinking of going into the catering business and liked the idea of calling it A Moveable Feast after Ernest Hemingway’s famous book, but in Spanish: La Fiesta Móvil. It just so happened Gaines knew Jack Hemmingway, Ernest Hemingway’s son.

“One night, up at the Manhattan Country Club, over a few too many glasses of wine with Jack Hemingway, I asked him if I could use that title, and he said that it would be fine,” Gaines recalled.

But a friend who was selling artichoke dip at local farmers markets suggested Gaines do likewise with his salsa. She introduced him to one of the market managers, who sampled the salsa and asked him, “When can you start?”

Thus, La Fiesta Móvil Salsa was introduced, soon to become a hit at the  Torrance Farmers Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Craig Marsch entered the picture four years ago. His brother, Jesse Marsch, an All Star Major League Soccer player and Gaines’ next door neighbor, recommended Craig, who wanted to move out here from Milwaukee.

Jesse Marsch asked Gaines if he had anything in terms of a job he could offer his brother.

“I had always thought there’s plenty of room for somebody else to come in, because I can’t cover all the markets,” Gaines said. That’s when the explosive Craig Marsch burst onto the South Bay scene, a man Gaines admits “has a lot of personality.”

The two hit it off, and although they operate independently, the partnership ahs worked to everyone’s advantage.

Mild or spicy?

Aside from the freshness of many of the ingredients, one of the things that sets La Fiesta Móvil apart, Marsch said, is the addition of chilies after the fact.

“We make it extremely mild,” he said, indicating a vat of salsa. “So, this right here has no heat at all. If you want medium heat, it’s two heaping teaspoons of chilies” or more, if the customer wishes. He adds chilies into the salsa at the last minute or provides them on the side.

This is the fourth year Marsch, a Redondo Beach resident, has been dishing out salsa at various South Bay farmers markets. Aside from Riviera Village, he operates in Palos Verdes on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Manhattan Beach on Tuesdays from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. and Long Beach on Wednesdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. 

Along the way, he added two more products: guacamole (his own recipe, he said) and chips: “I coordinate each day with the tortillaria (at Big Saver) to have them made fresh for me every day.” 

The three products—salsa, guacamole and chips—“have worked very well for us,” Marsch said.

(Gaines also sells the chips, but only peddles guacamole for big events like the Super Bowl, he said, since other vendors at the Torrance market also sell guacamole. "They are barely eking out a living, and I don't want to take business away from them," he explained)

But the real gem is the salsa. “We really are proud of our flavor,” Marsch said. Even in winter, an off-season, “we still produce about 200 gallons of salsa a week. You figure 200 milk jugs of salsa. That’s quite a bit.”

Although he never went to culinary school, Marsch said he has “always been interested in cooking.” Before moving to the South Bay, he managed The Highbury, a soccer pub in Milwaukee, where he undoubtedly honed his considerable people skills.

“I named the place myself,” said Marsch, who played soccer at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. He opened his hoodie to show he was wearing a red T-shirt emblazoned with “The Highbury,” named after a stadium in London. The bar, he said, along with soccer, were "part of the culture there."

His pub experience may also have prompted his “newest endeavor,” to add a Bloody Mary mix to his product repertoire. “I actually have a customer up in PV (who suggested it) and she wants to do it with me,” he remarked. Fresh and canned tomatoes, which he would use in the mix, are already stocked for the salsa.

Married just last April, Marsch beamed when talking about his wife, Aimee Schaff-Marsch, a senior education planner for Aveda, which he described as “hair care products, cosmetics and lotions and all kinds of stuff. She pretty much plans events, seminars and is in charge of 14 states.”

As Marsch entertains his clientele with all things salsa, his helper, Henry Castillo, chops onions and cilantro at a nearby table. The vendor is on a first-name basis with many of his customers, quickly winning over newcomers.

When Susana Skillen of Palos Verdes and her son Mat, 22, arrived at the stall, they ordered a large salsa as Marsch launched into his lively description of mild, medium and hot and the ratio of chilies needed.

Susana ordered medium. But Mat, who was to return to USC the next day, changed it to “medium to hot and two bags of chips.”

The two had never tried the salsa before. “We’re super excited,” Susana said. “It smells wonderful.”

Prior to a market, Marsch and Gaines and their teams do prep work at the commercial kitchen space they rent at Critic’s Choice Catering in North Redondo Beach, and then continue churning out salsa at the site.

The farmers markets range in size from the largest in Torrance, with “80 to 100 vendors,” Marsch said, to the smallest in Riviera Village, where only about a dozen braved the icy cold on Friday to show their fruit, vegetables, jams and breads.

“The best part of the farmer’s market is the people,” Marsch said. “That’s the best; the social aspect of it.” He says he sees many of the same people every week. “So you do kind of have like a semi-relationship. The people are always so nice.”

Gaines said the salsa business has been great for “a kid from Montana, who had never even seen salsa when he graduated from high school.”

La Fiesta Móvil can be reached through their Facebook page or by calling 310-710-4779.

Kathy Sena January 15, 2013 at 07:58 PM
Terrific article! Would love to see more from this writer. And this is fab salsa! Can't wait to get some more soon.
CraigM January 16, 2013 at 06:52 PM
I just want to thank Katharine for writing such a nice article and for helping promote our products. We have already had customers come try our product due tho this article. Thanks Craig LFM

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