Azteca Foods celebrates 50 years
From making history at the Smithsonian to a major sale (and eventual buy-back) with Pillsbury, Azteca Foods reflects on unconventional journey and thanks all those who made this landmark anniversary possible
Chicago-born, minority-owned, female-led Azteca Foods celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, signifying a milestone of achievement for the family business, which has flourished from humble beginnings into a multi-million dollar operation.
Azteca Foods commemorates its 50th anniversary throughout 2020, highlighting cherished moments of the past, revealing intimate glimpses of its social, community and economic impact, while providing a glimpse into its future, unveiling future plans for new products and initiatives.
Azteca is known for its Soft & Tender flour tortillas and its exclusive Flaky and Crispy Baked Salad Shell, found in the refrigerated section of most major grocers. Azteca also supplies freshly made products to the Food Service and Industrial channels.
“In 50 long and short years, Azteca Foods grew beyond anything I could have ever dreamed,” said Art Velasquez, founder and owner of Azteca Foods. “At the beginning, we just wanted to make the freshest, most authentic Mexican foods possible, while giving back to the community. Now here we are, 50 years later reflecting on such a momentous occasion, and we share this success with everyone who worked with us and supported our mission of bringing sunshine into peoples’ lives.
Art Velasquez, the son of a migrant laborer, founded Azteca Foods in 1970 with nine other Mexican-American friends who were all part of the Azteca Lions Club. Fueled with a passion for delivering traditional, quality Mexican foods to audiences outside their own neighborhood, the group initially began selling their tortillas to restaurants and small distributors in and around the Chicago area, delivering products at all hours of the day and night, at times, out of the family’s station wagon, with 6 children in tow. Over time, Azteca made its way into the refrigerated section of grocery stores, not only throughout Illinois but in states across America.
Through the years, we saw the Chicago community grow alongside us,” said Velasquez. “Without such a loyal support system here, I’m not sure we would have been able to scale so tremendously into other areas. Reflecting on how far we’ve come as a business and as an extended family with hundreds of staff members is something I will never take for granted.”
In 1984, the business sold to Pillsbury, with Velasquez remaining on as president. Pillsbury invested heavily into the brand, but Art and his wife Joanne ultimately purchased the company back from Pillsbury in 1989, bringing it home to Chicago once again. Today, three generations of the Velasquez family work for the company, led by their daughter, Renee Velasquez-Togher, as the company’s CEO, operating multiple plants in the Midwest.
“We owe many thanks to our Azteca family,” said the Velasquez’s. “Our staff, their loved ones, some of whom met at Azteca Foods and went on to have Azteca juniors. Our customers, suppliers, brokers, and ultimately our consumers who brought us to their dinner tables for decades. This was not a one-person job and it never could be.”
Azteca Foods became more than a household name; it became an industry game-changer. Currently, being honored and displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, Azteca Foods is recognized as a pioneer company for bringing ethnic foods into mainstream American culture.
In 1999, Azteca partnered with a small tortilla company in Spain, building a successful international tortilla company before selling the business in 2015. Still today, Azteca is sold and packaged in eight different languages.
As 2020 progresses, Azteca Foods will showcase pivotal stories, roll out new products, and unveil more about the people inside and outside of the company who have been integral to its growth and success. After 50 years of service and countless untold tales, Art & Joanne and their family hope the anniversary year serves as a way to bring even more people together, creating an Azteca moment not only at every meal, but in the community. The Velasquez family aims to continue bridging communities together, establishing new jobs, spreading economic impact and creating cultural awareness and educational opportunities for years to come.