Written by Jonna Castanos with entry by Zac Kreider
Self-proclaimed (and rightfully so) “tortilla savant”, Lil Rich Schneider of Raquelitas Tortillas, took time out of his busy schedule to sit and talk with me over a zoom meeting. You know this man works hard when he’s still working in the office on a Saturday afternoon! But it’s not just hard work that goes into creating a legacy, it takes passion. And passion is the driving force behind this family-owned, local business.
Back in 1960, the De La Torre family bought a tamale shop on Larimer, about 10 blocks from where the current production facility stands at 3111 Larimer Street in Denver. Known then as “La Popular”, they sold tamales and just small batches of tortillas. Then in 1979, long-time family friend Rich would join their team with his brother Raul De La Torre, and over the next 40 years, the two brothers would carefully build their brand based on innovation, amazing quality, and long-term relationships.
They’ve been well-known in the natural tortilla category since they opened their doors, long before it was a new trend. Larger tortilla conglomerates were buying their ingredient suppliers out from under them, so to survive, they turned to their local farmers and producers. Raquelitas works with some very unique ingredients. They contract blue corn grown by Bow & Arrow Farms, a small heritage farm along the Western Slope on the Ute Reservation. For their new green chile flavored products, they’ve contracted through the 5th generation family farm, Musso Farms, near Pueblo. As Rich describes it, “All the ingredients we use are like different instruments and we put them together into a beautiful song.” What started as an obstacle that was pushing them out of business is what would seal their successful future.
“Using local products is just the right thing to do.” -Rich Schneider
Rich doesn’t make quick decisions. When conversations began about using our product, Rich never asked about the price of sunflower oil. He wanted to be educated about the benefits of our high oleic sunflower oil, the environmental impact, and what his peers in the industry thought. After more than nine months of conversation, courting, sampling, and developing a relationship, Rich invited Colorado Mills to lunch with his biggest client. This was the true test; it was actually a taste test as Raquelitas presented the lunch group with chips that were fried in Colorado Mills sunflower oil and the traditional oil. Rich was going to allow his customer to help make the decision for him. Fast forward eight years and the relationship between Raquelitas and Colorado Mills has grown to feed off of each other to better the culinary scene and promote each other’s stories. You may just find Lil Rich out in a sunflower field soaking up some sun and more knowledge.
To compliment these Colorado grown ingredients, Raquelitas has collaborated with multiple industries, including automotive professionals, to design some of the custom-made machinery that they use. The specially made machinery still employs the “traditional” way of making tortillas, the same way it’s been done for thousands of years. With these high-end pieces of machinery, they’re able to produce 24,000 pounds of product in a single day to distribute to their 1,500 plus customers. Raquelitas markets their products to food trucks, schools, and hotels. You can find their chips from the 7-11 down the street all the way to The Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs.
Their dedication to sustainability is unparalleled. Since 2007, 100% of their power comes from wind-generated electricity through a program called Windsource. This program puts up windmills and then pumps that energy into a grid. Participating businesses have the opportunity to pay a little extra for this clean wind-generated power. With the leftover profits, Windsource invests it into building more windmills and doing even more sustainable work. Raquelitas is proud to participate in the push for cleaner energy and make it accessible to everyone.
Raquelitas is a sponsor for both the Colorado Restaurant Association and the Colorado Restaurant Foundation. The first helps prosper the health and welfare of the industry while the latter helps the people of the industry. Rich has been vice chairman of the Foundation for 2 years now where he has helped foster amazing programs for the health and wellness of chefs, an angel relief fund that gives to hardship cases, as well as a registered youth apprenticeship program. His work with the foundation has been extremely impactful for many people.
When it comes to making sustainable, hyper local products, and supporting people in the culinary industry; Raquelitas Tortillas is a trailblazer.
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