Lisa Santeusanio Patey ’77

They say “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” Lisa Santeusanio Patey ’77 would like to update that old aphorism: “When life throws tomatoes, make salsa.” Until recently, Lisa was a VP of Operations for TrueNorth Home Systems, one of the largest home improvement companies in Maine, where she had worked for ten years. But when the recession hit TrueNorth hard, forcing TrueNorth to close its doors after twenty years of doing business, Lisa knew she couldn’t wait around for things to get better. If this was the end of that chapter in her life, then it was time to start a new chapter, one that let her exercise her talents, have fun, and explore new directions.

Her homemade salsa, which was always in high demand from friends and family, became that new direction. Made from a personal recipe that expertly combines sweetness and heat for a fierce kick that’s spicy but not overwhelming, Lisa’s salsa is something pretty special. And other people agreed, and had agreed for years. Twenty years ago, Lisa’s famous salsa could be found in over sixty stores, one of which was located in Fanueil Hall Marketplace in Boston. But over time, it became difficult to keep up with the homemade orders that were pouring in, and the companies that co-packaged the salsa at the time wanted to compromise Lisa’s use of fresh ingredients. Lisa scaled back more and more before closing it up all together to pursue a career as a travel consultant. Customers missed the salsa, and Lisa even received an offer to purchase the recipe, but Lisa kept the secret to herself in the hopes of one day returning.

Now, Lisa is the owner of Maine Sauce Company and trademark holder of Mrs. O’Leary’s Firestarter Salsa. Named for the owner of the cow who, according to legend, kicked over the lantern that started the Chicago fire, Mrs. O’Leary’s Firestarter is all about celebrating the end of an old chapter and the beginning of a new one. Just as Chicago was destroyed, but rose up from the ashes and was rebuilt to be better than before. Lisa says, “The best part about my business is hearing from customers about how much they love Mrs. O’Leary’s Firestarter. I have customers from when I had the business 20 years ago who are thrilled to be able to enjoy it again!”

When asked about her time at WMS, Lisa had this to say: “The White Mountain School was an important part of my life. The lessons I learned were not only from the classrooms but all around me in the WMS community encouraging me to accomplish things I never thought possible.”

Mrs. O’Leary’s Firestarter is currently seeking a new home in Kennebunkport, ME.

Try it here!

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