Heather Salopek finds her own place in the pecan industry with Legacy Pecans
Written by CASSIE MCCLURE
Photography by DONICIO MADRID
A family’s sense of hometown pride can be created in a generation, but it can also cross further through time, with ancestors stirring descendants to make their own mark in their shared home.
Las Cruces native Heather Salopek is one such descendant. Inspired by her family’s rich farming heritage, she’s carved out her own niche in the pecan industry with her company, the aptly named Legacy Pecans.
Legacy Pecans specializes in giving the gift of New Mexico in the form of gourmet pecans—think dark and milk chocolate dipped pecans and green and red chile laced versions. She also offers corporate gift baskets and tins with different mixes and matches of her locally sourced nuts. New to the mix are her decadent pecan toffees and brittles, but even Heather as her favorite. “Cinnamon pecan coffee is where it’s at,” she says.
No matter what flavor or concoction her customers prefer, Heather says her business is about much more than just offering up a sweet tooth fix. “I want people to be proud to be from New Mexico and for my customers to take a bit of New Mexico home with them.”
It all started back in 2014, when Heather returned home to New Mexico after graduating from Texas A&M with an undergraduate degree in horticulture and a master’s in agricultural marketing. She had plans to head off to Georgia to work full time for U.S. Pecans, but a yearlong entrepreneurship program she’d participated in while getting her master’s had already lit a spark within her. Before heading east, and with the urging of her mother, Heather seized the opportunity to buy out the stock of a Las Cruces pecan company going out of business. For five months, she tried burning the candle at both ends, working with U.S. Pecans and building her own business, but ultimately decided to come home to focus on Legacy Pecans. “From the program, I already had my business plans,” she remembers. “But here, I had the support of my family, especially my father who told me to follow my heart.”
Today, Heather buys her pecans direct from her family’s farm. She comes from four generations of Salopeks who have made their home in the Mesilla Valley, but she was determined from the beginning not to rest on her family’s laurels. She wanted to build her business on her product, not her name. “I wanted to tread my own water and have my business judged on its own,” she says. “My favorite part of trade shows is watching my customers reaction to my brand. They fall in love with my product and then, when they realize they are Salopek pecans, they always have a personal connection to the brand.”
Heather enjoys sharing with her customers the story of her great grandfather who emigrated from Croatia in 1923 and settled in the Mesilla Valley. Generations of this farming family were at the mercy of Mother Nature, working hard only to have a bad storm wipe out their fields and force them to start anew. “It is very humbling and exciting to be able to share our family story and receive such positive feedback from the community,” she notes. “The response helps grow the business I have already created.”
While growing her business and living life on her own terms, Heather is also intent on giving back to the community. Legacy Pecans is in the process of working with Jardin de Los Niños to provide healthy snacks for local children in need through a program called Legacy of Love. “It might be a small thing, but showing one person hope, and that you believe in them, can have a lasting effect,” Heather notes. “I want to believe in the one kid who wants to be an entrepreneur, or one little girl who dreams of being a business owner.”
Another favorite family story inspires Heather’s determination to give back as well as her entrepreneurial spirit. “My great grandfather picked my great grandmother up late from Ellis Island and she got to the house and saw it for the first time, with her kids going wild, and she hit her breaking point,” Heather recounts. “My great grandmother asked in anguish, ‘Why did we come to America and why are we living like this? We had a wonderful life in Croatia, why would you bring us here?’ My great grandfather told her, ‘I brought you here because in America there is opportunity; we don’t have opportunity in Croatia.’
“He created that opportunity and just look what came out of that one strong decision—four generations later I’m still talking about it. It’s that one single act of courage that brought me here today.”
Ready to get your own Legacy Pecans?
Heather has her own store inside Lulu gift shop, 1800 Avenida de Mesilla.
Or visit her online and shop at legacypecans.com.
The post Heather Salopek is Paving Her Own Way With Legacy Pecans appeared first on Las Cruces Magazine.