Christina Puterbaugh grew up developing a taste for something straight out of her Macedonian heritage: pepper relish. “It is my mom’s and dad's recipe that they brought from the old country when they came to the U.S. in 1960,” says Puterbaugh. “My sisters and I ate it growing up when my parents would roast the peppers in the driveway each fall and spend a week making the relish.”
After the last of her three children was off to college, Puterbaugh, a stay-at-home mom, embarked on a career search. And then she thought of that pepper relish that she grew up with.
“I was ready to get involved in something I felt very passionate about and be responsible for something of my very own,” she recalls. “I love cooking and this recipe will always remind me of my parents, and I knew people would enjoy this so it all seemed to fit perfectly.”
With that, Rust Belt Pepper Company was born in Puterbaugh’s home-based kitchen. Customers loved the fire-roasted sweet red peppers in tomato sauce with garlic. Puterbaugh grew up eating the relish on homemade bread with feta cheese, but it has a wide variety of uses. “It’s a great appetizer on a French baguette with sprinkled feta cheese, a topping for grilled meat or fish, as a pizza sauce, in a bean dip, in pot of stew or on a Panini sandwich,” she suggests. “My husband's favorite is with scrambled eggs.”
As customers discovered Rust Belt Pepper, Puterbaugh, along with her mother Milica Lozanovich and daughter Michaela, struggled to keep up with demand. So this summer, after two years working from home, Rust Belt Pepper moved to the Cleveland Culinary Launch and Kitchen.
“The CCLK has been very helpful,” says Puterbaugh. “They provide me with their equipment and also help with labeling and getting my name and product out to the different businesses. Anyone starting a food business, the CCLK is the place to help you grow your business.”
Puterbaugh and Michaela now make the relish by the gallon, bottle it and label it each week at CCLK and still struggle to keep up with demand. Although it continues to be a family run business, Puterbaugh predicts that soon they will have to hire additional staff.
Rust Belt Pepper Company donates a portion of its proceeds to the American Brain Tumor Association in honor of Puterbaugh’s mother, a brain tumor survivor.