Put some spice in your summer with condiments made right here in San Luis Obispo County.
Bren’s Original Blends
For seasonings that pack a lot of taste without a lot of salt, try Bren’s Original Blends.
Bren Randolph learned “the art and love of cooking” from his grandmother and mother in Ojai. That knowledge served him well when he moved out on his own at 17.
“I prepared meals for my high school buddies and began to experiment making my own blends,” Randolph recalled. “I noticed that most blends had a various ratio of salt, pepper and garlic; I wanted to kick it up a notch by adding other ingredients to create a tasty, fantastic, all-purpose seasoning.”
By the 1980s, Randolph had moved to Atascadero and begun running a 5,000-acre cattle operation near Lake Nacimiento. As many ranchers do, he would cook for the neighboring cowhands that helped with branding, and received a lot of compliments on his seasonings.
“Over the years, I gave away my blends in mason jars to family, friends and colleagues, always receiving praise and positive feedback,” Randolph said. For instance, advice from his physician about avoiding a high-sodium diet inspired him to “get salt second on the list of ingredients,” which he was able to do using kosher sea-salt.
Further encouragement from Eric Gonzales and Tony DeGarimore, co-owners of Pier 46 Seafood in Templeton prompted Randolph to launch Bren’s Original Blends.
He delivered the first case of the seasonings to Pier 46 in January 2014, and has been expanding the lineup ever since. He now offers five flavors: Smokey, Savory, Spicy, South West and Original.
In addition to grilled meats and vegetables, the versatile Bren’s Original Seasonings can be used on everything from pasta, to pizza, to popcorn.
Randolph still does all the blending and packaging himself in a stand-alone facility on his property in Atascadero. (Randolph also makes custom seasoning blends for Morro Creek Avocado Ranch in Morro Bay.) He doesn’t expect that setup to change.
“I do want to expand,” he acknowledged, “but I want to keep control of it, and to keep it local — to keep it in Atascadero.”
Fans of Zorro’s Café and Cantina in Shell Beach will be happy to see jars of Zorro’s Salsa appearing on local grocery shelves.
Cindy Foresee was a server at Seasun’s Café when she had the opportunity to buy it in 2005. She jumped at the chance, and renamed the restaurant after the beloved family dog, a blue merle Australian shepherd called Zorro.
“She also wanted to shift the direction of the café to food that we naturally gravitated towards at home — Californian cuisine with strong Spanish and Mexican influences,” recalled Foresee’s son, Eric Landrigan. “The salsa was one of the first food items my Mom added to the menu.”
Over time, “We’ve all been able to add suggestions and make the recipe better,” Landrigan said. “The evolution of the salsa recipe with the contributions of the cooks and wait staff is a great representation of the atmosphere here at Zorro’s. We are all one big family.”
The flavorful — but not too fiery – salsa is made daily with fresh spices, fire roasted tomatoes and no onions. The restaurant usually goes through about 75 gallons a week, and many customers ask to take jars to go. Those requests made the family start thinking about selling the salsa on its own.
“We never really considered it being something we would do as a business until we had a customer ask us to bottle and ship 12 jars for them,” Landrigan recalled. “With the encouragement of my mom, my wife, Bailee, and I decided to start jarring the salsa on-site and shipping it out to customers via our website …”
Scott Williams at DePalo and Sons in Shell Beach offered advice about labels and jars, helping the project get off the ground. In June 2016, the deli became the first wholesale account for Zorro’s Salsa.
Now the salsa is on the shelves of several other Central Coast markets, and is available via Amazon.
The Landrigans are still making and jarring Zorro’s Salsa themselves, but the upcoming birth of their first child means they’ll probably be looking at using a co-packer in the near future.
That means they’ll start expanding the Zorro’s brand; look for new developments on the website.
Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.