Sounds of Cultura: La Canasta Tortillas

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Horizonte takes you inside La Canasta Tortillas. Find out how this family owned business developed into one of the most successful food distributors in the valley.

José Cárdenas: There are many successful latino-owned companies across the valley, some which were started by family traditions and have carried on through generations. In Tonight's Sounds of Cultura, Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez tells us how one business has developed into one of the most successful food distributors in the valley.

Nadine: La Canasta has been a cornerstone business for more than 30 years. This tortilla and corn chip manufacturer services major restaurants in the valley and sells their notable products in grocers throughout the state. It has become an integral part of the economy, owners say their success lies in the lessons learned from their humble beginnings.

Josie Ippolito: 1962 to probably 1970, used to make tortillas, it was a circle of women that used to hand strech tortillass and place them on the comal and the next one would go, thetortilla would cook, and they would turn it over and it was a whole -- what I refer to, at the time, as production process.

Nadine: La Canasta was founded by her parents. They still enjoy lending a helping hand in her retirement years. She remebers when the business first started.

Josie Ippolito: We used to wake up early in the morning, 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, daddy used to wake me up, six girls and one boy in the family. At the time there was no son. My brother, Richard, wasn't born. I was kind of his son I always was the one who wanted to go to work with him. And used to go to work before school. We had a big giant comal with burners on the bottom of the Comal and at times it was so hot that you couldn't stand on the concrete floor for very long. You had to lift your feet up and down because, of course, Phoenix, Arizona, it's hot. And the radiated heat on the concrete floor would be extremely hot.

Nadine: What was once a small one-room operation has now grown to a 25,000 square foot factory. Today La Canasta has more than one hundred employees and produces one million tortillas a day as close to hand made as possible.

Josie Ippolito: We have large humongous ovens and of course, larger Molinos and lot of what used to be manual is now automated. One of the criteria that we have for our manufacturers they have to develop equipment for us that is going to simulate a hand-stretched tortilla or something that is homemade, very similar to homemade.

Nadine: Over the years, La Canasta has received many opportunities to move its plant from south Phoenix to other Arizona locations. But Ippolito and her siblings say, this if there is one lesson that the secret to success is commitment to their employees, client, quality products and especially to their community.

Linda Rios: My dad was awesome about community. I remember when we were kids, there were so many homeless around La Canasta, my dad would take them in and make them part of the family.

Josie Ippolito: Our passion relates to having community and providing for the community as far as employment is concerned. We were offered to move out to Tollison and move in to Tempe. But because the labor pool that we had, we felt very dedicated to them and loyal to them because they had been with us for years and years and years.

Nadine: After years in the same location, la Cananasta keeps growing. The family also owns several restaurants nearby. This tortilla manufacturer sells products to more than 60% of valley restaurants. And now their products are sold in surrounding states, with plans to market their products to the Midwest.

José Cárdenas: That's our show, thanks for watching. I'm José Cárdenas. Have a good evening.

Sounds of Cultura: La Canasta

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