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Making salsa, chasing dreams

12-year-old+Jake+Johnson+started+a+business+making+salsa+and+selling+it+to+raise+money+to+go+to+A%26amp%3BM+in+the+future.
Photo by Cassie Stricker

12-year-old Jake Johnson started a business making salsa and selling it to raise money to go to A&M in the future.

With a dream to attend Texas A&M University to become a geologist when he grows up, Cy-Fair 12-year-old Jake Johnson decided tuition expenses would not hinder his aspirations.
What started out as selling salsa in mason jars to friends at the lunch table in seventh grade turned into something more than Johnson ever expected. “Jake’s Atomic Salsa” is now sold in 12 stores across Texas between the Houston and College Station area. Eight of those stores are Ace Hardware stores, three are Aggieland Outfitters and the other is Market 1023 in Downtown Bryan. His story has been featured in the news on television, and also in publications such as Texas Living Magazine and the Houston Chronicle.
Since the beginning of September when the business opened, Johnson has sold more than 8,000 jars of salsa, saving the profits for his four years at A&M studying geology. Additionally in a few weeks, Johnson will be featured as a keynote speaker at his middle school for the eighth grade career day.
Johnson said his desire to become a geologist one day stemmed from his fascination with rocks.
“I always had a connection to rocks,” Johnson said. “I like it because it just seems really cool to me how one, how expensive they are, and the beauty of them, they’re really pretty. So that’s why I wanted to do it. And I also wanted to find them.”
Johnson said a few special ingredients helped him to achieve the perfect salsa recipe — roasted peppers and spices, to name a few.
“I never liked the salsas in the store. So I always thought, well, if I make my own, I would have the perfect flavor and I would always eat it because it was mine,” Johnson said. “So I made it and it was really, really good.”
Johnson wanted the brand name of the salsa to reflect his passion for geology science, so “Jake’s Atomic Salsa” seemed to fit that notion to a T.
“I tried to come up with different names,” Johnson said. “It was kind of a basic name to me. I was trying to come up with a creative name so it’s kind of bland but not entirely. I was trying to make something appropriate because my stepdad wanted to call it ‘Sick in the Head.’ I don’t know why.”
Being an Aggie runs in Johnson’s family. His stepdad graduated from A&M in 2006, and Johnson said he became intrigued by A&M because of the fun and adventurous stories his stepdad would tell him from his college years.
“I think me at such a young age, that inspires other people to think, ‘Well, if he can do it then I can do it,’” Johnson said. “Because I mean I’m only 12 and I made the salsa business. And the older people think, ‘He’s younger than me and he has a salsa business, maybe I can start my own business.’”
Kari Schriewer, Johnson’s mother and a special education specialist at Johnson’s middle school in Cypress, said one of Johnson’s teachers, Ms. Buck, was encouraged by his story and told the Cy-Fair ISD media about his salsa business that would raise money to pay for his tuition at A&M. From then on, word of the ambitious seventh grader spread like wildfire.
“It was instant chaos,” Schriewer said. “That day he was featured on the news, and while I went to pick him up from football practice, I remember him getting in the car  … Me and my twins and Jake go to his dad’s house and we’re watching the news with his dad. And while I’m at his dad’s house, my phone rings and it’s another news station.”
Schriewer said the night her son was featured on the news, seeing Johnson’s dream become a reality was surreal.
“I remember when I tucked him in at night that night,” Schriewer said. “He was like, ‘Mom, when I woke up today, I was just a normal 12-year-old kid and now I’ve been on the news; this is crazy.’”
The next day, Schriewer’s phone blew up with people wanting to purchase salsa and wanting to send Johnson words of encouragement. Schriewer said it was then that the family decided to hire a manufacturer — Consolidated Mills — for the business.
Even amidst the time commitment that comes with owning and running a salsa business, Johnson still attends football practice and does his homework, and Schriewer hopes he will continue to stay grounded through it all.
“I don’t know how to describe it — just proud,” Schriewer said. “With all of this, I want him to remain humble, how we raised him to be … He still has chores, he’s still Jake, he’s still a big brother to my twins and then his sisters, and he still needs to stay Jake.”
Fadi Kalaouze, CEO of Kalcorp Enterprises and owner of Aggieland Outfitters, reached out to Schriewer and Johnson when he heard about Jake’s Atomic Salsa.
“It was an easy decision and everyone wanted to help and get involved to help him realize his dream,” Kalaouze said. “The fact that he was so young and considerate of his parents and already planning ahead for his future, and the fact that he was so determined to be an Aggie — it really resonated with me personally.”
On Aggie game days this past fall, Schriewer and Johnson set up a table outside of Aggieland Outfitters and sold his salsa at the store, encouraged by Kalaouze.
“We sell them year-round and work with Jake and his family to continually promote his store to help him drive sales, whether through our stores or his own website,” Kalaouze said. “We sold them exceptionally well during the holidays. We actually just did a photoshoot with Jake for our social media team and will continue to support him and his dream.”
Johnson’s whole family works together to support his endeavors — his dad handles the shipping, his stepdad deals with the finances and Schriewer promotes the business through public relations.
“I hope that people know how important it is to support and encourage their kid no matter how far fetched the dream may be,” Schriewer said. “I hope that people put faith in their kid and support their kid and listen to them no matter how crazy it might sound. You need to support your kids at all costs and always provide an environment where your kid feels accepted.”
Throughout the journey, Schriewer said the two main things that encourage Johnson to persevere are his family and his faith.
“I asked [Jake], ‘What has helped motivate you? What support do you feel has helped carry you through this whole crazy process?’” Schriewer said. “And he said, ‘The faith that my family has in me and the faith that I have in God’…He grew up knowing you’ve got to always have faith.”

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