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Hacienda Mexican Foods

6100 Buchanan St
Detroit, MI 48210

Building a community-based company, Hacienda Mexican Foods in southwest Detroit

Lydia Gutierrez makes a good impression when you meet her. The president of Hacienda Mexican Foods is smartly dressed and carries a confident persona. It's easy to see how she ends up as the person who holds court in a small group conversation.

But believe it or not there was a time when Gutierrez didn't know what to do. That was about a decade ago. Her husband and business partner had just died due to complications from Hepatitis C, leaving his wife with a multi-million dollar business to run. The southwest Detroit-based tortilla company employed dozens of people and served as an anchor in its corner of Mexicantown. And Gutierrez was struggling to keep it afloat.

"I ran the business with my heart, but my costs continued to go up," Gutierrez says. "I closed my eyes and prayed for help. When I opened them up I saw things differently. I am an administrator who needs to run a business."

That turned out to be the turning point for Gutierrez. Today Hacienda Mexican Foods employs 60 people and a few summer interns. It has hired nine people in the last month and is looking to add five more.

It's a multi-million-dollar business that just signed a partnership with Meijer to make flour tortillas, corn tortillas, and tortilla chips. Those items are set to start selling in Meijer stores under the Hacienda Mexican Foods brand this summer, and Gutierrez expects it will help drive a doubling in her firm's revenues.

"We have an endless love for this city," Gutierrez says. "Not because of where it's going but because we have been here a long time."

Gutierrez started Hacienda Mexican Foods with her husband, Ricardo Gutierrez, 25 years ago. Tortilla making had been the way his family provided for itself for generations. Gutierrez says her husband's grandfather opened the first tortilla shop in Michigan, providing the foundation for them to start their own company.

"It was pretty much all he knew," Gutierrez says. "His parents wouldn't let him do all the other things the other kids were doing. He was stuck in a tortilla shop."

Gutierrez started off working sales and running the business office of the firm. They slowly grew it in those early years, eventually buying Vernor Foods. They leveraged that firm's production space to scale their own business.

"We continue to grow in that space today," Gutierrez says. "Today we're at about 66,000 square feet."

Hacienda Mexican Foods has become a cornerstone of its section of Mexicantown. The company takes pride in doing as much business with as many local firms as possible. For instance all of its packaging is done by Michigan-based company so Gutierrez knows her business can maximize its economic impact in its community.

"These are good people that need to work," Gutierrez says. "By working they become better citizens. They go to the grocery store or to the restaurant down the street."

It also works to employs as many local people as possible and do what it can to help them become successful. Hacienda Mexican Foods not only provides jobs for local folks but helps them further their skills with training programs and even open their own businesses. Gutierrez also makes sure her employees become smarter by advancing their educations. She routinely helps them get their GEDs or enroll in college. One employee got most of the way through the GED program and told Gutierrez he had to drop it because his work schedule wouldn't allow him to finish. Gutierrez didn’t accept his reasoning.

"I told them there are no excuses here," Gutierrez says. "There are only two months left. You need to get your GED."

He got it, and it’s a story Gutierrez tells with pride today. Not only because it shows someone bettering their life but bettering their community. That's important because Gutierrez points out that even though her business has had opportunities to move out of Detroit, it is not leaving the city any time soon.

"I am from here. This is my neighborhood," Gutierrez says. "For me it's important to see success happen here."

Welcome to the Year of the Gazelle, an exploration of the fastest-growing startups in southeast Michigan by the Startup team and the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan (NEI). Not only will we identify the local gazelle companies that are perfecting innovative new products, creating jobs, and generating lots of revenue, we will give you a full accounting of each one. The stories behind the entrepreneurs that build these businesses. The investors that back them. The resources they leverage. How they have all worked together to build Metro Detroit's new economy, and how they plan to do it in the future. In return we will only ask you to do one thing: keep up.

- Written by Jon Zemke

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