Ramona’s Mexican Food Products

Although Ramona’s Mexican Food Products is modestly sized compared to some Mexican food companies, that hasn’t made it any less of a competitor, CFO Ramona Banuelos says. Instead, “Everyone wants to be like us,” she declares. Based in Gardena, Calif., the family owned company sells Mexican food items, including burritos, chile rellenos, enchiladas, refried beans, tamales, frozen dinners, and corn and flour tortillas. Banuelos’ mother, President Romana Agosta Banuelos, founded the company with three partners in 1948.

Banuelos later bought out the shares of one of the partners and moved to a location that she ran on her own. “My mother would get up at 2 o’clock in the morning, take my two brothers in her arms, go to [her] converted storefront, and make corn and flour tortillas by herself,” Ramona Banuelos says.

At dawn, Banuelos says, “She’d come back home, get the children bathed and ready, and take them to a babysitter,” then return to work. “She produced by herself and [made deliveries] by herself.”

Her willingness to work hard, Banuelos says, drove the company’s success. “[It was] my mother’s attitude that there wasn’t room in her world for failure,” she explains. “As long as she worked hard and kept her nose to the grindstone, it would be successful.”

Eventually, the elder Banuelos and her husband moved the business to south Los Angeles. At that location, “My mother opened up a delicatessen to show people how to use tortillas in their everyday life,” Ramona Banuelos says.

Today, Ramona’s employs a staff of 216 and operates three plants and three restaurant stands in California. The company uses only all-natural ingredients in its products. “Our food is traditional Northern Mexican cuisine,” Banuelos says. “It has a very authentic flavor, and nobody offers an authentic flavor.

“Ramona’s uses fresh chiles and spices; the flavors are bright and clean,” she says. ”The food is not tempered down for non-Hispanic taste buds. True fans of Mexican food can tell the difference. Ramona’s Mexican American fans tell them it reminds them of their grandmothers’ cooking.”

Family in Food

Banuelos grew up in her family’s company. “My mom used to take me to work when I was eight years old,” she recalls, adding that she was taught the administrative side of the business.

“My brothers were the ones who learned how to cook and do anything in the production facility,” she recalls. Today, her brother Martin Torres is vice president, and her brother Carlos Torres is executive vice president.

Its staff also includes Eloy Brown, who is Romana Banuelos’ first cousin. “She’s been with [the company] since she was in her late teens,” Ramona Banuelos says. As plant supervisor, “She helps maintain order in the plant.”

Banuelos adds that Carlos Torres was an important player in the modernization of Ramona’s operations. When the former Marine returned after serving in the Vietnam War, “He took my parents’ business from being run like a mom-and-pop place and brought in things like automation, inventory and production control,” she says.

Loyal Following

Retailers that carry Ramona’s products include Smart & Final Inc., a warehouse grocery store chain that has locations in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Nevada and Mexico. The store is one of Ramona’s largest customers along with 7-Eleven stores. “They carry our full line of burritos,” she says. “Their customer base [includes] independent liquor stores, independent grocery stores [and] convenience stores.”

Ramona’s is introducing frozen dinner items to grocery store chains, including Ralph’s and Albertsons. “They’re beautiful packages,” she says. “Carlos and Martin recently added Chorizo and Bean enchiladas and chicken enchiladas. They did this at the request of market brokers. It is easier for us to respond to the market because of our smaller size.”

Ramona’s also has developed a strong consumer following. “One of my customers in California [said to me], ‘You are the Rolls-Royce of burritos,’” Banuelos says. “That’s really thanks to my mother’s iron-clad fist, keeping everybody in line.”

Banuelos wants to continue growing its distribution. “I would love to see us become available to all the people who were fans of Ramona’s growing up [and have left California],” she says.

Banuelos says she often sees comments on such Web sites as Yelp and Chowhound from consumers, asking if they know anyone who sells Ramona’s burritos outside of California. “I would love to have distribution throughout the country,” she says.