Chiles have been a part of Jeanie Neubauer’s life for as long as she can remember: Her father, Gene England, started the Santa Cruz Chili and Spice Co. in 1943. Today, Neubauer runs the family business in Tumacacori, along Interstate 19 south of Tucson.
The company is best known for its chili powder and chili paste, which can be found in grocery stores across the state. It also supplies its products to Mexican restaurants around the country. “We have a big spice following,” Neubauer says. “People come out of their way because we have a unique set of high-quality and unusual products.”
The longevity of the business, Neubauer says, comes down to a combination of two things. “Number one, we have a huge, loyal following. We have a distinct product that everyone really fell in love with.” The second thing? Customer service. “We’re kind of famous for how we treat our customers,” she says.
There’s no real magic to the process of making the spices, Neubauer says: “Chili powder is done in the same original way — we have very specific genetics that have been developed for our red chile.”
When her father started making chili powder, he sun-dried the chiles to get the flavor just right. Today, there are more hygienic and more efficient ways to complete the process, while still maintaining the flavor.
Another key to maintaining flavor is consistency. At Santa Cruz Chili, the products have remained consistent because the people creating them are consistent. Neubauer says the family that started working with her father when he bought the ranch in the 1930s is still part of the company, with fourth-generation employees currently on the payroll. “It’s a great way to create sustainability,” Neubauer says. “A business doesn’t exist without the community around it.”
And that community is growing. Santa Cruz Chili now sells online and ships to people throughout the U.S. And online, customers can find recipes and ideas for how to use a variety of products. Who knew, for example, that green chile salsa could be used to make brownies?
Maybe that’s the company’s “magic” — keeping the products consistent while using them in new and exciting ways.
Santa Cruz Chili and Spice Co.
1868 E. Frontage Road