Omar Ahmed Hernandez grew up making tortillas. His family founded the Santa Fe Tortilleria 17 years ago in a narrow Sunset Boulevard storefront in Echo Park. After the family sold off the business, Hernandez continued to work off an on at Santa Fe as it expanded into a former fish market on nearby Logan Street, churning out freshly-made tortillas to stores and restaurants across Los Angeles. But later this month, Hernandez, who now serves as manager, will oversee the closure of the Echo Park tortilleria. Santa Fe will remain in business but plans to join forces with a Long Beach tortilleria that operates a much larger facility. Meanwhile, Senor Fish, the fish taco and Mexican restaurant that will open in the adjacent Pescado Mojado storefront, plans to eventually expand into the Santa Fe space.
Hernandez said Santa Fe was already paying $4,000 a month in rent, a figure which has kept climbing. Meanwhile, the cost of corn has risen about 50% in recent months while Santa Fe has struggled to compete with much larger tortilla markers, Hernandez said. Santa Fe has lost customers and dropped distribution routes. In fact, Santa Fe now sells more pork rinds and other items than tortillas from its Echo Park outlet. The move to Long Beach will help lower costs and help Santa Fe survive an industry-wide shake out that Hernandez and others have described as the “Tortilla Wars.”
“It was a matter of time – we had to move,” Hernandez said last week. “The Tortilla Wars … will only get worse.”
Hernandez said Santa Fe prides itself on making corn tortillas with no additives. The firm had also recently starting making tortillas from organic corn. But the firm’s high costs put it at a disadvantage against its much larger competitors, some of them backed by major corporations. Moving to the Long Beach tortilleria, which has five times the space as Santa Fe’s Echo Park building, provides more opportunities for money-saving automation. For example, Hernandez said Santa Fe currently counts tortillas by hand before they are packaged. That will be done by a machine in Long Beach.
Santa Fe is now looking for nearby outlets to sell its Long Beach-made tortillas once it closes the Echo Park location by the middle of the month. “I definitely want to keep distribution here,” Hernandez said.
- Dear Eastsider: In search of tortilleria alternatives. The Eastsider