Black Sombrero makes authentic Mexican sausage in small-town Ontario
When Alberto Estrada moved to Canada from Mexico City in the early 1990s, one of the foods he missed most was authentic chorizo sausage. This popular, spicy dish is a diet mainstay in Mexico and Spain, but Canadian interpretations of it fell far short of his expectations.
“I used to go out places and buy it,” said Alberto. “And I would never find something close to what I was used to.”
An uncle visited from Mexico one summer and provided Alberto with a chorizo recipe he could make at home. But his uncle listed only the ingredients, forgetting to include the proportions.
With chorizo, the proportions are crucial. Getting the right mix of spices is the only way to deliver a product that hits the mark. So Alberto refined the mix until he found one that worked.
“I've always liked a little bit of cooking myself,” he said. “I played a little bit with it, and I came with [a unique] recipe. We really, really liked it.”
Alberto shared the homemade chorizo with his wife Lisa, their four kids, friends and extended family. They always ran out quickly. Soon, friends of friends were asking to buy some. Demand was so high, they decided to work with a commercial processor to make larger quantities.
They knew they had a seed that could grow into a viable business, but wanted to wait for the right moment to formally launch a company. In 2019, after nurturing the idea for more nearly a decade, they took the plunge and launched Black Sombrero, a family-run artisanal sausage company.
“We decided, you know what? Now's the time,” said Lisa, who grew up north of London. “Let's do this officially. Get retail ready, which included labeling, barcodes, and ensuring we complied with all government regulations. It was a big learning curve.”
The company took off quickly. Angelo’s, a popular Italian bakery in London, was the first retailer to carry Black Sombrero products. Then, Crunican Orchards began selling Black Sombrero sausage at its retail outlet near Elginfield.
Additional retailers in Exeter, St. Marys, Bayfield, Wingham, Straffordville, Strathroy, Komoka and other parts of London, joined in. Today, about 26 locations carry Black Sombrero products, and the company also participates in farmers markets in Ilderton, St. Marys and Exeter, as well as other events in southwestern Ontario.
“It's been really hard for us to keep up with demand at this point,” said Alberto. “We are restructuring our business to be able to grow, because the demand is there.”
And the demand isn’t just local. The company sells products all over the province through its online store. Black Sombrero mini-chorizo (hot and mild pork, or turkey-based) and summer sausage is well-loved in households in Ottawa, Windsor and northern Ontario.
“They'll meet us at a show or something and then they'll try it,” said Lisa. “And they don't live nearby – so next thing, we're getting online orders from people … cottagers try it, and next thing, they're ordering it.”
The company also sells frozen chorizo, but only at physical locations in southwestern Ontario.
At this point, Black Sombrero doesn’t have a dedicated retail store of its own – the company operates out of their family home near Denfield – and it’s still a part-time business for Alberto and Lisa.
But the plan is for Black Sombrero to become a full-time gig for their four kids, who are now old enough to participate in the family business.
“That’s the reason why we held off for so many years,” said Lisa.
“We kind of waited on this so that we could let them grow up, enjoy their childhood, and have time that was dedicated to our family first. Now that we've done that, we feel they're of age that they can be part of it. They can now help us, and hopefully have something for their future.”
Business remained strong the pandemic, and both Alberto and Lisa believe it’s poised for further growth long into the future.
“The number one reason why the business is growing – besides the service and the personal touch that we have direct from our family – is that we have a really good quality and a unique flavour in all of our products,” said Alberto.
“It’s a custom spice,” added Lisa. “It's our recipe, nobody else has it. We're dairy and gluten free, and we're no fillers. We believe we're a higher quality product due to the fact we don't use any artificial colours or artificial flavours. Only the spices and the meat. And source farm-cooperative meat.”
What began as a passion project for Alberto now has the potential to spread across Canada, and beyond.
“Had we tried to take this on a few years ago, I think the business would have suffered,” said Lisa. “The kids would have suffered; we would have been in limbo.
“We waited for the right timing, so that we could give it 100 per cent effort. I think that's why it's able to be successful. It's our fifth baby now.”
For more information about Black Sombrero, and to place an order, visit blacksombrero.ca