BY LAUREN SABLE FREIMAN
PHOTO BY DOUG KHRENOVSKY
Leticia Ortiz arrived in the United States from Monterrey, Mexico, as a student who had a dream of bringing the tastes of her native country to Clevelanders. But a realization that the Cleveland market was already oversaturated with Mexican restaurants helped reshape that vision.
Now, almost six years later, Ortiz’s dream of being a successful business owner is alive and well in the form of an Ohio City tortilla factory with projections of $2 million in sales for 2015.
“Mexican restaurants were growing so fast in the area, so we thought it was better to start the business,” Leticia Ortiz, who owns Tortilleria La Bamba with her husband, José Andrade, and sister, Enedina Ortiz, says.
At the time, two local tortilla makers had turned off their machines and closed their doors, leaving area restaurateurs and business owners in a pinch and on the hunt for the unmistakable taste of fresh tortillas.
When the factory first opened its doors in a space behind the West Side Market, the market responded in force. In Tortilleria La Bamba’s first year, it grossed $250,000 in sales. With six products including hard taco shells, enchiladas, and tortilla shells cut in half for chips, the business has steadily grown. Three years ago, Ortiz says they invested in additional equipment that allowed them to double production.
Now, in order to keep up with demand and continue to grow the business, Ortiz says plans are in place to add another shift by the beginning of 2015. With the additional shift, Tortilleria La Bamba’s machines will be pumping out tortillas from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. five days each week. Five additional employees will most likely join the team that currently includes Ortiz, Andrade, and four others.
Ortiz sells directly to 70 restaurants in Northeast Ohio and parts of Pennsylvania, while distributors in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan are supplying additional restaurants with Tortilleria La Bamba’s products. Though products are not currently in grocery stores, Ortiz says they are currently working to expand into the retail market.
And while growth has been impressive, Ortiz has no plans to slow down. For the past year, Ortiz has been fortunate to work with Luis Cartagena from the Minority Business Development Agency Business Center, an organization that fosters the growth and global competitiveness of minority-owed U.S. businesses. “He is such a great business advisor,” Ortiz says. “He is bringing a lot of information and networking and a big part of our connections and networking is through him. They’re a great organization for small businesses.”
On Cartagena’s advice, Ortiz will devote time in the coming year toward earning a minority-owned business certification for Tortilleria La Bamba.
Ortiz has also had the opportunity to participate in Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses at Cuyahoga Community College, a business management education program devoted to helping small business owners grow their business.
“I had the opportunity to meet and learn from business owners from different kinds of businesses,” Ortiz says. “There are so many things you can learn from each other. It is such a great program that really encourages small business owners and connects you to other programs based on your needs.”
In fact, as a female, a minority and a small business owner in Cleveland, Ortiz has found that the opportunities for education and networking are bountiful for those who choose to seize them.
“There are different programs in the city for females and minority business owners, and you have to take advantage of that,” she says. “You just have to look for them, find them and take them. You can achieve anything you want. Especially in this city and country, I see more opportunity than ever before.”
As she looks towards the future, Ortiz plans to do exactly that – seek out new opportunities and capitalize on them. The coming year is already shaping up to be full of growth and change. The company has outgrown its current 10,000 square feet, so plans for a new space are on the horizon. With the additional space, Ortiz plans to add additional equipment, like a fryer, which will lend itself to tasty new products – including fresh, crispy tortilla chips that Ortiz hopes will line grocery store shelves in the not too distant future.