Updated April 2019
Winner, 2018 Faces of Entrepreneurship Award
If several years ago you would have told Alicia Villanueva that she would be making over 40,000 tamales a month, she would not have believed you. By day she cleaned houses and did home care. Every night she dreamed of starting her own business. Since arriving in the United States in 2001, she had a passion for sharing her Mexican culture and the best way to do that was through cooking tamales.
For Alicia, tamales are a dish overflowing with tradition and history. At first, she was making about 50 to 100 tamales a night that she sold after work door-to-door. She woke up early to shop for her ingredients, went to her day job, cooked and sold tamales, and repeated it all over again. This is how Alicia’s Tamales Los Mayas was born. Early on she became discouraged because she was working 20 hours some days. Selling her delicious tamales was a huge time commitment, and her profits were very minimal. She often wanted to give up.
This was the beginning and she was determined. Alicia knew it was time to expand her business and take things to the next level. Around that time, she was introduced to La Cocina, an incubator for food entrepreneurs. La Cocina taught her how to run and manage a business. She learned everything from social media to basic bookkeeping. She joined the incubator in 2010 and formalized her business, making about 500 tamales a month. In 2014, Alicia went to Opportunity Fund for a microloan to buy a truck so that she could catch up with increasing demand and start delivering more orders. She graduated from La Cocina in 2015, averaging over 20,000 tamales a month.
They really catapulted me to where I am now, without their support, it would have taken longer. I’m honoring the amazing opportunity they gave me; working hard to do the best I can with the business.
Participating in the La Cocina incubator pushed Alicia to expand her business. Her family helped make the tamales, but the demand was more than they could handle. She hired her first employees, applied for loans, and scoured the market for a space.
She heard about the Mission Economic Development Agency and their new Adelante Fund, a microlending program that provides access to capital for small business owners who cannot get a loan at a traditional bank. These loans provide fair lending options and pre and post-loan business assistance and coaching. Alicia applied for the community loan from the Adelante Fund and received a $100,000 loan, a first for Adelante and Alicia! She finally received the money to buy the space of her dreams. “It’s a challenge to open a small business if you don’t have a lot of economic support. They gave me the wings I needed to fly” said Alicia.
Fast-forward to today, and Alicia has indeed soared. Her business is constantly expanding; her tamales are stocked in Whole Foods stores all over northern California and they will soon be available at Gus’s Community Market stores. Alicia’s Tamales Los Mayas has 21 employees, caters to over 80 companies on a monthly basis, and provides delicious meals through her private catering service. They also make 10 to 15 deliveries a day throughout the Bay Area to some of the biggest names in town: Google, Apple, Yahoo, and Bon Appetit. What’s more – Alicia recently struck a deal with the Golden State Warriors to sell her tamales at their games in the Oracle Arena and is working toward a similar deal with the San Francisco Giants.
Through her success, she’s been able to donate food to different causes in her community. It fulfills her mission of creating opportunities for families and making a positive impact on her community. She wants to do even more. “We help our community and we are just starting, we would love to do even more.”