Tortilla maker has a valuable partner at Carolina
Adapted from an article for Endeavors, UNC’s online research magazine,
by Alyssa LaFaro
It’s 3 o’clock on a Monday morn- ing. Sweet-smelling steam wafts through a large warehouse in St. Pauls, just south of Fayetteville. A vat full of golden kernels bubbles while a nearby machine smashes
two stones together, grinding freshly
cooked corn into putty. Across the warehouse, the sound of whirring machinery
signals the start of a conveyer belt.
Hundreds upon hundreds of nearly
perfect circles shoot down a production
line that transforms them into hot tortillas.
Workers stack and
pack them into
boxes, which will be
loaded into trucks
and shipped out
within a few hours.
By 9 that morning,
people are buying
them at local Hispanic markets.
In the U.S.,
tortillas — both
corn and flour
— outsold white
sandwich bread in
2010, according to
the industry’s trade
years prior to that,
American households consumed more salsa
than ketchup. In 2014, tortilla chips grossed
$1.3 billion. Traditional Mexican fare has
become a staple in U.S. households — a
fact that, in part, stems from the country’s
growing Mexican-American population,
now 64 percent of the entire Hispanic
Enrique Elizondo recognized the start of
these trends about 12 years ago, so in 2007,
he left his production manager job with
Tyson Foods and founded Tortillas Carolina
in Clinton — which more recently gained
the assistance of UNC students and staff
with its business planning.
Elizondo began the business with a small
Mexican tortilla machine that produced
about 1,500 pounds of tortillas per week.
Another machine, a warehouse and a
decade later, he’s producing 25,000 pounds
of corn products each week.
“But we have the space, the machines
and the demand to produce 120,000
pounds,” he said. “I want to be doing that
this spring. I’m ready to grow.” At present,
tortillas, corn chips
and hot tortillas for
market chains and
in North Carolina
and South Carolina.
Elizondo is ready
to expand his reach
a niche market —
not only in North
Carolina but across
the Southeast,” said
Ben Holmes ’ 17
(MBA). “There’s a real demand for the
products, one of their greatest competitive
advantages being that they’re made with
local North Carolina corn.”
This spring semester, Holmes traveled
back and forth to Tortillas Carolina,
now based in St. Pauls, as part of his
work with NCGrowth — an affiliate of
the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of
Private Enterprise that helps businesses
and communities create equitable and
sustainable opportunities for their people.
is ground with
stones made of
volcanic rock, as
the Aztecs did.