From Kitchen Incubator to Whole Foods Contract: The Journey of Alicia’s Tamales

Mission Economic Development Agency San Francisco, CA

Small Business

Alicia Villanueva, owner of Alicia’s Tamales Los Mayas, received a $100,000 loan in October 2015 from Surdna funds. She used the loan proceeds to purchase large factory equipment for a 6,000 square foot factory space she was expanding into at the time. 

She would not have been able to access a loan elsewhere at the time because she had only recently received legal immigration status. She had been in the country for more than a decade undocumented and had incomplete credit history. Additionally, she had saved nearly $100,000 in undeposited cash income, which was a key factor in underwriting the loan but would not have been considered by another lender.  

Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) worked with Alicia for four years prior to the loan by helping her create her business plan and formalize her business, providing financial coaching, and helping her get accepted into a nearby non-profit kitchen incubator with La Cocina. During the loan application process, MEDA also worked with her to develop a plan to begin depositing the cash reserves and reporting it, which was part of her TA plan and was a required covenant in her loan. 

As a result of the loan and TA, Alicia’s Tamales has nearly tripled its revenue in the last 4.5 years. Moving into a factory space allowed them to expand into wholesale packaged food production, and they are now selling tamales in Whole Foods stores in the region, with plans to scale this line of business over the next two years. Alicia’s Tamales now has 24 employees with an average starting salary of $16/hour. Additionally, the business provides stable income for Alicia, her husband, and her adult son. In 2019, Alicia landed a contract to sell her tamales at Chase Center – home of the Golden State Warriors, nearly two decades after she immigrated from Mexico and started selling her goods door to door in Berkeley. Although her contract with them paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chase Center recently contacted Alicia to let her know that they want her to come back as a vendor once they open up fully to the public again.

In the past year since the pandemic , Alicia has adapted her business model. She has established contracts with both the Lincoln and Vacaville School Districts, has focused on growing her packaged food business to include 50 grocery accounts (she was serving 10 in March of 2020), and has been selling tamales at the San Ramon and Rivermoor farmer’s markets every weekend.

With support from relief programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Alicia has been able to maintain all 24 of her employees. She plans to continue trying to grow the number of grocery stores and school districts she supplies.