Tortilla maker continues to cook up connections through Dream program
Fernando Gutierrez sees Samuel Adams owner Jim Koch as a “grandfather” of sorts.
“He’s teaching me about the world of business. I told him it’s important to have a mentor like you to show me the ropes and teach me the way,” Gutierrez said. “He’s a real simple guy. He does this program because he started in his house – in his basement. He wants to help small businesses like me.”
Gutierrez has connected with Koch through the Samuel Adams’ Brewing the American Dream program, which strives to spotlight small businesses throughout the nation. The program works with non-profit microlender Accion to support entrepreneurs through loans and coaching.
Gutierrez’s Highland-based Torti Products, which makes ready-to-cook flour tortillas, has been honored by the program, including being featured on beer packaging and placing second in the Chicago pitch competition.
“After ending up in second place at the regional competition, I was invited to the pitching competition in New York. I received an all-expense paid trip to Manhattan … that was a prize in itself. I also had the opportunity to explore New York,” he said. “You go in front of the judges and talk about your products. I received good comments. The exposure was good and I had the opportunity to network and meet people.”
From the mentoring component of the program, Gutierrez decided to include a small tortilla in each package – an homage to his youth and roots that helped cultivate his passion for cooking.
“It reminds me of my grandma … she used to make small tortillas for us,” he said. “I started doing the small tortilla in different figures that change with the seasons and holidays.”
His tortillas are now in 27 stores after he recently picked up four new stores in Portage, Chicago, Lansing and New York. He also put a sign up at his place in Highland to start selling from his home base.
“I am selling so much now that I barely have time to keep up with orders. It’s good news but becoming harder … I work seven days a week 10 hours a day.”
Gutierrez has tools ready after meeting with NW-ISBDC business advisers Cindy Bertram and Gary Brownlee. He hopes to hire additional staff with the help of funding – perhaps from an investor.
“I am growing and putting the time in and getting fatigued … it’s time to hire people but money is the issue. I have a potential investor interested in the company and I had had help from Gary with a proposal.
“I am falling into the right things.”
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