Flavor Inventor

The creative, unconventional and irresistible flavors of Starla Batzko’s seasonings have given the Belgium woman’s home-based business the tangy taste of success

Starla Batzko has created a seasoning business she runs out of her home in the Town of Belgium.
Ozaukee Press staff

A young lad of 9 or 10 years old approached Starla Batzko’s seasonings exhibit at the Strawberry Festival in Cedarburg.

“You should have something mango,” he said.

Batzko agreed, and went to work. Eventually, her mango chipotle dip and seasoning mix was born.

Being humble enough to accept inspiration from anywhere and anyone has helped her carve out a successful spot in the dip and seasoning mix market from her Town of Belgium home.

Starla’s Seasonings, Dips and Mixes picked up some serious credibility at last year’s State Fair. Her BLT seasoning and dip mix, a usual customer favorite, was named grand champion in the herbal blends category and a newly developed one took second.

Batzko’s brother Phil Shlamp had been introduced to key lime pie during a trip to Florida and sought out the refreshing dessert. Batzko created a mix for it and entered it in the fair.

Even Schlamp was a bit apprehensive, what with his sister’s 20-plus other selections from which to choose.

But the key lime pie fruit and dip mix took second place.

“I actually cried a little bit,” Batzko said.

Business success ran in Batzko’s family. Her great-grandmother made doorstops in the shape of chickens and sold them at art shows. Her grandparents ran Mueller’s Sales and Service in Random Lake.

Her father had a silk-screen business, and her mother made artificial flowers and made beer can hats with panels cut out and knitted together. She remembers sitting under a table at craft shows handing money up to her mother to make change for customers.

Batzko and Schlamp got into airbrushing. She did T-shirts and he specialized in phone cases. 

Carpel tunnel syndrome, however, had Batzko looking for another opportunity.

She found one through one of her hobbies, wild game hunting.

Batzko always liked to cook — she has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, family and child development from Southwest Texas State (now Texas State University) and teaches wild game cooking with a chef from Wausau online — and noticed that the wild game market lacked seasonings.

Batzko did airbrushing and seasoning mixes for a while before moving full time into her new business venture.  She gave all her T-shirts to an orphanage in Guatamala and received a photo of the children wearing them.

The seasoning business started with a mix called Grandma’s Garden, which, like many of Batzko’s concoctions, can be sprinkled onto meats, added to soups and breads or used in beer battering and dressings.

“It took a lot of experimenting,” Batzko said.

One key, Batzko said, is her products are natural.

“The dynamics have changed. People are more health conscious. There are more label readers,” she said.

Batzko’s labels note that her mixes do not have MSG, gluten or added sugar. They are non-GMO and do not contain trans fat or preservatives.

“I love flavor,” she said, “and its tough to find a good natural choice.”

Batzko has built her selection to more than 20, covering seasonings for meats and vegetables, dips and cheese balls and fruit dips. She has a few biscuit and bread mixes as well.

Batzko came up with the name for some of her mixes before the products themselves. Nacho Mama she found to be “hilarious” and developed a mix that tastes like a famous cheesy tortilla chip.

The Cinnamon Apple Spice mix has several uses, including mimicking a famous butter from a chain restaurant.

Her husband Dave won a chili contest at his workplace using the Peppercorn Ranch mix.

Some mixes take longer than others to develop. Cheesy Pizza took about 15 tries, she said, but the end justified the means.

“My kids call it heaven in a pan,” she said.

Batzko’s creations are creating a legacy in other families as well. One of her customer’s children demand shrimp using Pesto Parmesan seasoning when they return home from college.

Batzko’s business is a family effort. She designs and prints her own labels, and has worn out several printers. Her husband, brother and two children are involved, and her parents Del and Kay help as well. The caregiver for Batzo’s grandmother helps fold labels and Batzko’s 3-year-old granddaughter helps with packaging.

Batzko picks up most of her customers at sports and hunting shows and at the West Bend farmers market.

Sometimes, men will stop by with lists from their wives that command them to come home with certain kinds of Batzko’s mixes.

Batzko and Schlamp can identify many of their repeat customers, though not necessarily by name.

“You visually know. Here comes BLT, here comes Garlic,” Schlamp said.

They encourage people to try new flavors.

“It’s fun to watch their eyes, even talking them into something they never would have tried before,” Schlamp said.

“You see the gears start turning,” Batzko said, “‘Oh, that would be good on a chicken breast.’”

Schlamp has used the mixes to spruce up regular dishes. He uses Nacho Mama to boost the flavor of macaroni and cheese.

Recipes are included on each label, but Batzko eventually had to limit the selections — the labels kept growing and the type kept shrinking — so she includes a larger list on her website.

Being in the food industry has given Batzko an insight to international trends. China has flooded the U.S. garlic market, which drove up the cost of the domestically grown plant, and Batzko said she has noticed a shortage of Parmesan cheese.

Batzko also offers her mixes for fundraisers and ships mixes across the country.

Her mixes are available on her website and in some area stores, including Cedar Valley Cheese in the Town of Fredonia and Grapes and Tastes in Cedarburg.

For more information: ilovedip.com.




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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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