A story in the Jan. 12 edition of Washington Business said that the Moctec company grinds 10 pounds of corn every week to produce 500 to 800 Tortillas. The story should have read 10 tons.
Victor Vasquez's tortilla factory is not in the Southwest but in Northeast -- northeast Washington.
Three years ago the San Antonio-born psychologist opened Moctec Mexican Products in a red brick warehouse on Montana Avenue NE. Moctec was opened with a Small Business Administration-guaranteed loan and the backing of four limited partners.
Nearly two years later, the tortilla factory began turning a profit in a business that consists mainly of supplying supple, preservative-free tortillas to area Mexican food restaurants and a few retail outlets.
The tortilla factory now grinds some 10 pounds of Eastern Shore corn every week, sending 500 to 800 dozen steaming, marigold-yellow corn tortillas gliding down a conveyer belt each hour.
"Nobody should open up a business like I did," said Vasquez. "I spent everything I had or would dream of having [in personal assets] to get where I am."
Vasquez learned about Mexican food from his family and by working in restaurants while he was in school. His maternal grandfather was the confectioner at the St Anthony's Hotel in San Antonio, responsible for the hotel's pastries. His mother cooked Mexican food for the family. "The recipe I use for tortillas I picked up as a kid," he said.
Vasquez took his first job when he was 12 years old and continued working while attending Texas Christian University. Among other things, he ran all the Mexican food concessions at the Six Flags Over Texas amusement park.
After almost 10 years in government, he quit to do what he had always intended to do -- open a business. "The Mexican food business on the East Coast is the fastest growing food business there is," according to Vasquez.
From the Department of Health, Education and Welfare's policy planning office where he previously worked, Vasquez moved into the second floor of an unheated warehouse with a single electric outlet. There he began building his factory -- a few rooms where workers mix the corn with hydrated lime, cook it, steep it, wash it, grind it and turn it into tortillas and chips.
In the early days, "I used to work all day selling and all night manufacturing," said Vasquez. In his fatigue, he would fall asleep on his feet standing by the oven. Now his work has moderated to approximately 15 hours a day, he said.
Vasquez claims now to provide tortillas for approximately 95 percent of the Mexican food restaurants in the area, as well as for other restaurants and carryouts that want to offer items such as tacos on eclectic menus.
Food stores including Memco, Jumbo and Magruder's Grocers and some cooperatives and health food stores carry the Vasquez tortillas, as well. So far, Vasquez has not been able to sell his tortillas to the major chains such as Giant and Safeway.
"They want a tortilla they can handle through their warehouse systems, which means it has to last three to six weeks, which means preservatives or freezing," he said.
Vasquez said he hopes to convince stores to sell the tortillas as a perishable such as bread, which is what tortillas are.
Vasquez claims to produce a better tortilla because of the amount of time he steeps the nixtamal -- the mixture of corn and lime -- and because he washes the corn by hand afterward. The corn is washed four times to remove the bitter taste of the lime, he said. Automatic corn sprayers, which other manufacturers use, are not as effective, according to Vasquez.
Within the next year Vasquez hopes to expand his production of tortilla chips and to begin production of flour tortillas. He distributes a variety of spices and Mexican food items produced by other manufacturers and hopes to do more "to make the delivery worth the dollar."