Gloria Badilla of Chilttepica (Photo by Erika Howlett)

Chilttepica: How Gloria Badilla Heats Up Tucson’s Food Scene

April 8, 2024
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By Erika Howlett
By Erika Howlett

For Gloria Badilla and her husband, Huémac, Chilttepica started as a backup plan.

After the stock market crashed in 2008, the couple wondered what they’d do if their financial situation worsened. They had the idea of producing salsa as a side hustle, or as Gloria said, “our ‘Plan B’ in life.” 

Chilttepica (Photo by Erika Howlett)

But Gloria doesn’t do anything halfway. 

She set out to make the best product possible, taking her time with every detail from the name to the packaging. Eventually, she was ready to get certified by the health department and seek out local stores for a spot on their shelves. 

They had to wait over two years for a response from Costco, but ultimately they were given an appointment — the big-box store decided to sell their salsas. 

At the heart of their business is the chiltepín, a spicy pepper native to the Sonoran Desert region.   Gloria prides herself on using only high-quality, pure chiltepínes to produce a clean product. 

In 2015, she left her full-time accounting job to manage the business. The pandemic threw a wrench in their plans, slowing their sales and halting their production of salsa. Nowadays, they’re still sharing the spice of the chiltepín pepper with Tucson through their line of spices, salts, and molinitos (spice grinders), available on their website and at several local stores.

Up next, the Badillas will be launching a new citrus twist on their spice: Chilttepica Limón. Their product has even attracted international attention from a potential buyer in Korea. The next challenge is finding enough peppers to keep up with the demand. 

Check out the rest of my interview with Gloria below. 

Gloria Badilla of Chilttepica (Photo by Erika Howlett)

Me: How did Chilttepica get started? 

Gloria: We made salsa, and we went and knocked on doors. La Estrella Bakery was the first that started selling our salsa and the three locations sell our spices now because we’re not producing salsa right now. 

And I started emailing Costco corporate, which for this region is in San Diego. Two or three years later, they answered my email. There’s people that email their whole life, could be 10 years, and they never answer. They gave me an appointment, and my husband and I went with our little ice chest to the corporate office. 

We were on their shelf for six years. We did really well and they put us on hold right when the pandemic started. We’re still on hold, they have not closed the door on us. In the meantime, through the pandemic, I’ve been keeping tabs, emailing back and forth. If it’s meant for Chilttepica to return to Costco, it will. If not, it’s not. We’ll go on. 

Me: Why chiltepínes? 

Gloria: We centered on chiltepín because we grew up with them. The chiltepínes and the molinito were in the middle of the table, like your sea salt and pepper. That’s how we grew up. And the chiltepín, it’s one of the peppers that has so many benefits, health-wise. 

It’s a spicy pepper, but the heat doesn’t burn your mouth. It lingers to the back of your mouth and it disappears. They’re very small, like little berries. And if you have a chiltepín like that in your mouth, it’s gonna be hot, but it’s not gonna leave you burning like other peppers do. And within five minutes, you’ll be fine.

Chilttepica (Photo by Erika Howlett)

Me: Where do you source your chiltepínes? 

Gloria: Our chiltepínes, right now, come from the Sonora River. From Hermosillo, it’ll be to the east, towards the mountains. We’ve been with the same farmer for about 10 years. It’s a family-owned business — he and his wife. What I’ve been hearing around is the price doubled because they didn’t have any rain. Right now, we are debating on increasing a little bit of our price because we have not increased our prices for three years. We’ve been able to hold on to that. But it breaks my heart as it is, but we’re gonna have to offset this somehow. 

Me: How do you recommend people use your spices? 

Gloria: With our Chilttepica Limón, you can crust your glasses, like for micheladas or for margaritas. My favorite is over watermelon. Or over an avocado — it’s wonderful! 

You can use it for any of your meat sauces: you can use it as a chili and as a spice — be aware of the heat. It gives it a nice little kick. There’s a smokiness of the chiltepín, natural smokiness when it gets sun-dried. Also, one of the criteria of our products is that we really take good care in sun-drying the chiltepín. We do the packaging, we do everything. It’s pure chiltepín.

Me: What’s it like running a small business? 

Gloria: It’s hard. I’ve been really close to closing doors but I believe in Chilttepica. I believe it’s a good product. It’s a clean product. 

Right at the pandemic, this was in March, I said to my husband, “Let’s bring you aboard,” and he dropped his job. It slowed a lot because the stores closed. It was pretty scary. So we really thought of closing the doors. But I said, let’s stick around for another couple of months. 

I think that I learned something about myself: the passion that I have for Chilttepica. I’m enjoying my life better, I don’t even know if I can go back to an 8-to-5 job. 

For more information, visit Chilttepica is now a Tucson Foodie Restaurant Partner and Insiders can get a $5 discount every 45 days within the Tucson Foodie App.

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