Aurora’s salsa mix master comes up short on winning American Dream competition but says she’s still long on benefiting from Boston small-business program


AURORA | As a kid working side-by-side with her family in the tomato fields, Lindita Torres-Winters learned a few things.

One of those lessons was about hard work — a lesson impossible for migrant farm workers to miss. She also learned early on that she loved those fruits and vegetables she picked and later cooked with her family. And she knew early on that she wanted her life’s work to revolve around those plants.

“I didn’t know what exactly it was then, but I knew I was going to do that,” she said.

For almost 20 years now, Torres has made her living from her passion for Mexican food with her line of dried salsa mixes, Lindita’s Instant Salsa Mix. The packets of dried ingredients can be mixed with fresh or canned tomatoes to create Mexican salsa.

This month, Torres’ work grabbed the attention of some big shots in the food and restaurant business when she was one of five small business ownersfrom around the country chosen by Boston Beer Company — makers of Samuel Adams — to compete in a national contest for a $10,000 grant.

The contest included coaching from business experts and took Torres to Boston where she made a two-minute pitch to a panel of judges about why they should invest that $10,000 grant in her product. While she came up short in the national competition, Torres said the competition was a great experience and one that helped her make connections in the business world.

“It was a wonderful opportunity, and I’m still in awe,” she said.

The trip was part of the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream competition.

Jim Koch, founder of Boston Beer Company, launched the program in 2008 in an effort to help small business owners get coaching from experienced business professionals and to help them get the small loans that start-ups often need, but big banks aren’t keen to provide.

So far, the program has doled out more than $2 million in loans to more than 200 small businesses nationwide. The program has also coached more than 3,000 small business owners, and created or saved nearly 1,400 jobs, according to Boston Beer. The loans are small — between $500 and $25,000 — and can be used for a variety of business purposes.

One of the companies to receive a loan through the program was Jamaica Me Hungry Tropical Grille, run by Jimmy Howe of Centennial.

Jennifer Glanville, a brewer and spokeswoman for the company, said the program stems from Koch’s difficulties getting loans when he first launched the brewery in the 1980s.

“He found it really hard to get the financial support that he needed,” she said.

This year, Boston Beer expanded the program to include not only microloans, but also the grant contest called the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream Pitch Room Competition.

Torres-Winters said that when she heard about the program, she jumped at it.

While finding advice and tips about how to run the business smoothly is much easier today than it was when she started in 1994, Torres-Winters said she is always happy to listen to people who might be able to help.

While she didn’t win the grant — though she plans to try again next year — Torres-Winters said the program was a chance to get her ideas in front of some experienced business leaders.

It was also a chance for her to learn from a beer maker that started small like Lindita’s.

“With a lot of hard work, they’ve become a national brand,” she said.

While they still only account for a small percentage of the overall United States beer market, Torres-Winters said Samuel Adams is a brand that when people think of it, they immediately think of beer.

“I want the same thing,” she said. “I want when people hear Lindita’s, they’ll think of salsa.”