Mexican immigrant Jose Luis Gutierrez faced a stark choice in the early 1980s. Keep his Las Vegas home or his struggling local tortilla production business. His two partners had already bailed on the young business. The profit did not — yet — justify the hard work required to make the flat, corn-based bread in a 400-square-foot room. Nonetheless, Gutierrez chose to push ahead with making tortillas with the help of family while trying to hold down a second job as a waiter.
Now, nearly 40 years later, that shoestring business has grown into T.I. Foods, serving tortillas and salsa to casinos on the strip.
“The business was the dream to move us forward and he was right,” said Gus Gutierrez of his father’s decision to sacrifice the house. The younger Gutierrez worked alongside his dad in the early days and now runs the family business.
T.I. Foods has grown from four workers — Jose Luis, wife Felicitas, son Gus and daughter Teresa, his brother Rosendo (Jr) to 115 team members operating in three locations in North Las Vegas. Jose Luis Gutierrez immigrated to California in the 1960s, where he worked as a bartender and waiter. He traveled to Las Vegas in the 1970s on the recommendation of friends to look at job opportunities. Jose Luis Gutierrez and friends thought they saw a money-making opportunity in producing tortillas for the growing Hispanic community in Las Vegas. They bought production equipment from Mexico and in 1979 began making 100 pounds of tortillas from inside a 400-square-foot room. There was just one problem. “We had no market, we had no customers,” Gus Gutierrez says.
Half the production was thrown away. One partner quit in 1980, the other in 1981. Jose Luis and Gustavo kept their night jobs, both working in tortilla production and Gus also focused on sales. Wife Felicitas Gutierrez began selling tortillas door-to-door in the Hispanic neighborhoods, which eventually opened the road into retail stores. The first big breakthrough came when Ricardo’s, one of the few Mexican restaurants in Las Vegas at the time, agreed to buy their tortillas.
Then restaurants at the Stardust and Frontier became clients, opening the way to casino clients. Today, the bulk of T.I. Foods’ sales come from restaurants, including those in casinos. Over the years, Gus Gutierrez and his team of workers have expanded beyond producing just tortillas. That drove him to change its name from Tortillas Inc. to T.I. Foods. The company today sells about 300 products.