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Valley and Ventura County | VENTURA COUNTY REVIEW /

Salsa Cannery Operator Hopes to Set Culinary World on Fire


For more than 20 years Paul Sheehan Jr. worked as an inspector for the California Department of Health Services' food and drug branch, monitoring the practices of food-processing facilities in the tri-county area.

These days, though, the shoe is on the other foot for the Ventura resident.

Sheehan, now retired from health services, has joined the ranks of the cannery operators he once monitored, having opened CKC Foods of Oxnard.

"I've just naturally been inclined to food," Sheehan said. "I've been planning this for years. I had gone as far as I was going to go [as an inspector] and I just wanted to start my own business. I saw a great opportunity here. There weren't any contract manufacturers in this area to do what we do."

CKC, which stands for Coast Kitchen & Cannery, processes and bottles salsas, sauces, dressings and other condiments for independent clients, along with producing its own line of products. The other Ventura County canneries--including H.K. Canning of Ventura and Saticoy Foods--have different specialties.

"Saticoy does vegetables, H.K. does beans, we do shelf-stable products--which can go on the shelf and sit there," Sheehan said. "They have different expertise and have to meet different regulations."

CKC Foods, equipped with a food processor's license and a cannery license, occupies two industrial units totaling about 4,000 square feet on Oxnard's Pacific Avenue. Sheehan subleases a portion of the site to a former colleague who is operating a food consulting lab, helping entrepreneurs get started in the food business.

For the immediate future, at least, CKC Foods will concentrate the majority of its business on manufacturing other people's products. And Sheehan said there are more than enough small-scale, start-up condiment makers to keep his company busy.

"It's an easy way for people to get into the business," said Sheehan, who has about 10 regular clients. "We have all the technical expertise and equipment. All they have to do is come in with a recipe and a checkbook and they're out the door."

In the long term, Sheehan said, he would like to step up marketing of the CKC Foods line of salsa and hot sauces. The products are carried at the Smith & Smith salsa store in Ventura and are sold at local farmers markets.

If Sheehan needed any encouragement to promote his own products, he got it in the form of a first-place award for the CKC Chipotle Steak Sauce and a second-place award for the Hot Roasted Garlic Sauce as judged by officials of the 1998 National Fiery Foods Show in Albuquerque, N.M. The awards will be presented at the show in March.

"We will continue to do contract manufacturing and then transition into our house brands," Sheehan said. "We expect to be able to move our own label at least into markets in the Ventura County area. But as long as we stay just local, I think we'll always do custom manufacturing. It's nice working with these people, helping them get going."

Jess Tobes of Oxnard is one of those clients looking to gain a following in the fiery foods market. Tobes, a native of Guam, is working with CKC Foods to manufacture his Chamorro BBQ Sauce, based on a Guamanian recipe passed down in his family.

Tobes said he has neither the money nor the technology to bottle the sauce on his own.

"A cannery is the best bet for me because they've got the equipment for bottling," said Tobes, a truck driver for Newton Building Materials of Saticoy.

Since they began working together in late November, Sheehan has bottled 24 cases of the Chamorro BBQ Sauce. Tobes intends to market the product to major grocery-store chains and to distributors in Hawaii.

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