“This is all I’ve done.”
Those are the words of Richard Schneider (loving called “Lil’ Rich” by some) discussing his heritage of tortillas. It may not be the empire some would imagine, but for Rich and his brother, Raquelitas Tortillas is the empire they’ve always dreamed of. Rich describes himself as “obsessed” with his business and his product, motivated by his father’s legacy, and wanting to inspire others with their story and their food. Rich surmises, “We’re exactly where we should have been to tell this story.”
So where did they come from?
It started with Don Salvador, the family head and the father of Raquelitas current owners. He lived in Five Points with his wife and young children, and attended airplane mechanic school while working as a butcher. Along with Rich’s mother, they frequently shopped at La Popular, a Mexican bakery, off Larimer in Five Points (modern-day Rino). La Popular was originally started in the 1940’s. A Mr. Guilindo was running it when Rich’s family shopped there, and he was ready to get out of the business. Rich’s parents decided to buy the bakery storefront and operations in 1960, and the rest is history.
“Do we make money? Yes. Is that why we’re here? NO.”
Rich’s mission is to make incredible products and carry on his father’s legacy.
After some years with the La Popular storefront representing their bakery items, Don Salvador looked to expand operations and buy a factory space. He secured the old Duff’s soda pop space at the corner of Larimer and 33rd in the 1970’s, just a handful of blocks north of the La Popular storefront. It was a family affair, and Rich and his brother worked for their father from a young age.
In their 20’s, Rich and his brother were living together in a Wheat Ridge rental. Their landlord wanted to raise their rent, so the boys asked their dad for a raise to help cover the cost. His response? Don Salvador looked at them and said, “You want more money? Run the place.”
They were initially exhilarated. Rich excitedly tells the story, “We were like, yahoo! We’re gonna blow it up! You know the song, “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”? It was like that!”
At that time, Rich and his brother would be high-fiving over a ten-case order. Now, he says, they’ll have five semis a day lined up to get their product loaded.
As we continue our conversation, though, Rich isn’t taking all the credit for the growth. He once again goes back to his father’s well-laid plans and business sense. “My dad had way more vision than us. He took bigger risks that we are willing to take. He’d visit other cities, see the way things were going, and then make decisions.” Buying the factory space where Raquelitas currently operates is just one of Don Salvador’s savvy choices. At the time, the building was much larger than needed; but buy it he did, making alterations and upgrades for the level he saw the business growing into. And to buy and hold a building at Larimer and 33rd – well, I don’t even need to tell you what a great choice that was in terms of real estate.
But the earlier years in the neighborhood, of course, came with its own compromises. Until just four years ago, they had metal grates and 4 layers of wood in the place of glass windows, relics of Duff’s time there. Rich says they’ve been shot at and witnessed pedestrian violence, but as time has gone on and the neighborhood has grown and changed, the neighborhood vibe and safety has changed to. “It’s so nice to have the glass window right here,” he says, gesturing to the bright light shining through a window above his desk. “I didn’t have that for years!”
As Raquelitas operations have grown over the years, their workforce has grown as well. Currently employing 28 people, Rich tells how they maintain their culture while staying productive. “They aren’t competitive, they lift each other up; we win together.”
“Do it right, or don’t do it at all.”
Raquelitas isn’t about taking the easy way out. Rich says proudly, “We do things the hard way. My dad always said, do it right, or don’t do it at all.” Raquelitas looks to make incredible food for their community – not make products to maximize profit at any cost.
An example is their new specialty tortilla, made the way “it used to be made.” Rich recounts, “I was at an industry show yesterday, and a chef from Monterrey, Mexico, opened the tortilla bag.” Rich demonstrates, holding his empty hands to his nose. “He smelled it, and exclaimed, “Ah, it smells like home!”’
Going back to the basics – quality, heritage ingredients, and making the tortilla from scratch – is what really makes the tortilla stand out. It’s made with single-field hard heirloom corn, lime, and water. Yes, that is the way it used to be made – and yes, it truly is hard to do on a commercial scale. But in addition to the ingredients and crafting, essentially, a slow food tortilla, what is also special is the way they pay homage to their past. The tortilla was named after their father, and its item code is actually the old address of their bakery – 02012.
Another example of doing it the “hard way” is Raquelitas commitment to the use of wind power. Raquelitas entire operation is 100% wind-powered since 2007. Some companies will power choice parts of their operations by renewable energy, focusing on using renewable energy sources to power specific things like stoves or machinery. And of course, any step towards utilizing renewable energy – which can come at an additional cost for the pocketbook of the owner – is a step in the right direction. But again, Rich and his team are more interested in doing things the right way, all the way. So when they were approached by a local energy company bringing wind power to businesses, they decided to go full-steam ahead and power their entire building with wind power.
“It’s really fun when you like the guy you’re writing a check to.”
Raquelitas has a special bond with their farmers and suppliers. When corn became scarce to buy from national companies, they started looking at smaller farmers and suppliers closer to home. “We were actually forced into farm-to-table to survive,” Rich shares. They started forming tight bonds with their farmers years before farm-to-table was a commonly-used phrase, and a trend we see (and support) in restaurants across the nation.
But this shift in their business supply was a blessing in disguise. It gave them an opportunity to experience higher quality ingredients that drove their products to the forefront of local, and national, attention. And true to his motto of helping everyone rise and succeed together, Rich loves connecting and supporting the producers of the products he believes in.
An example is the high-oleic sunflower oil he buys exclusively from Colorado Mills outside of Denver. They are fifth generation farmers in Colorado. They supply him non-gmo premium oil directly from their farm, and also help Raquelitas create tortillas and chips with a third less fat than they used to produce. Rich, ever the connector, makes sure every chef he works with knows about their product.
In addition to being a connector and businessman, Rich likes to have a little fun. Raquelitas makes a special red chip just for their Nebraska farmers. “You know how they just have to have everything red for their football season. They love the red chips,” he says about his one-off treat for them. You’ll also see Rich cruising around in his Cadillac Eldorado – he uses it to get around to industry shows, and even to move small orders of product and visit his farmers. The background on one of his computer screens is his prize car sitting in front of a grain silo; the other computer screen shows a picture of Rich with a big smile, holding an ear of corn, with the two farmers that grew the corn. “That ear of corn right there?” he points to the picture, “That’s that one right there,” he gestures to a dried ear of corn on a shelf in his office. Talk about someone who fully immerses himself in the process.
“I want us to inspire people.”
Raquelitas is a wonderful story of a family with the vision, dedication, and hard work to stick with their dream for decades.
For Rich, he’s reminded of their roots every single day: “I see the stairs in the corner of the building, and I remember – that’s where my dad used to sit. And the cart? That’s still here, inside of the door to our factory.” Cart? What cart? Well, when Rich and his brother were working for their father, they used a small metal cart to load up orders and push them out to waiting vehicles for pickup.
And yes, that metal cart is still there, repurposed inside of the factory. Its presence reminds them every day of Raquelitas past – and future. For Rich and his crew, they’ll keep making incredible tortillas and chips for the enjoyment of their community of restaurants and consumer. And they’ll be doing it with the same attitude and gratitude that has always characterized their work.
Rich’s words hold true for us all: “Remember where you came from. Stay humble.”