Green Sauce in the Green Mountains
While the Green Mountains might be a world away from the peaks of Patagonia, and the word “chimichurri” might be confused with a bird call around here, Vermonters can now enjoy the green, tangy Argentine condiment thanks to Jehshua’s Chimichurri, the flagship product of the recently established Jehshua’s Specialty Foods in Norwich, VT.
Using ingredients most Vermonters know, love and find locally, Jehshua’s chimichurri blends the familiar into something fresh, exotic and surprising.
Combining parsley, cilantro, olive oil, red wine vinegar, sweet onion, garlic, key lime juice, oregano, sea salt and pepper, founder Jehshua Barnes has carved out a nice niche in Vermont’s specialty food industry and is growing a small business that is poised to expand.
“Chimichurri isn’t something a lot of Vermonters have tried before,” he says, “and they just love it. It’s good for you, it’s versatile and it’s unique.” Traditionally eaten with meats and seafood, Americans enjoy chimichurri on everything from eggs and sandwiches to salads and pizza.
Although Jehshua’s Chimichurri can be found at 20 Vermont co-ops, specialty food stores and restaurants after just a year of business, Barnes insists he never set out to become a condiment entrepreneur. A native of Hanover, NH, he finds himself in Vermont by way of a 15-year acting career in Los Angeles. With appearances in films like Best in Show and Mulholland Drive, not to mention many television commercials and some soap opera roles, Jehshua returned to the Upper Valley just over a year ago and found himself outside of his industry and anxious for more autonomy in his professional life.
“After working for so many years in the film world,” he says, “where you really have so little control and you just go out auditioning over and over, this was a great change for me. It’s something where you have so much more control and you can still be entrepreneurial. You can still run your own thing.” Jehshua, who still travels to Boston for acting gigs, manages all operations, sales and marketing for Jehshua’s Chimichurri, and he spends most of his time traveling the state to give demonstrations and tastings.
When the idea for a Vermont chimichurri was hatched, Barnes sought the guidance of the Vermont Food Venture Center facility, a food and farm incubator in Hardwick that rents out its facilities and provides free consultation to food entrepreneurs. The VFVC helped Barnes churn out his first 10-gallon batch and also aided in the process of securing FDA approval and business development.
“It really has been an amazing resource,” Barnes says. “They helped me get going, not just in providing the facility but with pretty much anything I needed to know. If you have an idea, you can just go there and they’ll get you started.”
Jehshua’s Chimichurri eventually outgrew the incubator, and Barnes relocated to a processing and packaging plant next to Harpoon Brewery in Windsor. He now produces 70 gallons of chimichurri at a time, and is in meetings with representatives from Whole Foods and international importers hoping to get a taste of the Argentine green sauce. The unique nature of the condiment means that many Vermonters have never tasted chimichurri before, making for a relatively easy path to the grocery store shelves when compared to common products like barbecue sauce or hot sauce.
“It’s been a lot of fun to start this here in Vermont,” Barnes says. “I didn’t really plan on it, but this does happen to be the best state in the country for specialty food production.” In addition to the consultations with the Vermont Food Venture Center, Barnes was also a featured entrepreneur at the Shelburne-based venture capital firm Fresh Tracks Capital’s first Road Pitch, a coordinated motorcycle road ride throughout Vermont with stops for startups to pitch their ideas to seasoned investors and executives.
“Everyone I talked to,” says Barnes, “told me that having ‘Made in Vermont’ on your label is the best branding you can get.”
Jehshua’s signature green jar of chimichurri will soon have a complementary counterpart, as Barnes prepares to roll out his second product, a beef bolognese, which he is working on in addition to frequent trips to Boston to appear in an upcoming David O. Russell film. Between the expansion of his specialty foods and his acting career, Barnes finds himself busier than ever. “It’s a fun learning process,” he says, “that’s for sure.”