Tortilla shop catches on in Queens
Shauna Page, once a financial consultant, never thought she would exchange her corporate attire for a red apron.
But there she was, piling up homemade corn tortillas hot off the belt, at her shop, Tortilleria Nixtamal, in Corona.
“There is a science and art in making tortillas, but it’s OK if they’re not perfect because they’re homemade. It’s a nice aesthetic,” Page said.
She and her boyfriend and business partner, Fernando Ruiz, opened the Tortilleria earlier this year.
The Tortilleria serves typical Mexican fare (tamales, carnitas, fish tacos), but the tortillas are far from typical — for New York City, at least.
Dry corn kernels called nixtamal are ordered and shipped from Illinois. The corn is softened with a lime solution for two hours. Then, the nixtamal is cooled for eight hours and crushed into a paste known as masa. A tortilla maker from Mexico turns the masa into tortillas. Apparently it’s the only shop in the city that makes tortillas in this fashion.
The city is trying to foster small businesses such as Tortilleria Nixtamal as part of its economic recovery plan, dubbed the Five Borough Economic Opportunity Plan. Page and Ruiz have been working with NYC Business Solutions, which provides consultation and connections to lenders.
Even with the city’s help, however, the Tortilleria was in a precarious state. Just a few weeks ago they were denied a loan. They needed money to keep paying the bills and employees.
“We need something to break even, we need support for the next three months,” Page said at the time.
NYC Small Business Solutions told them to come back in a few months to prove they had a viable business before they could get a cash infusion. It was the typical small business catch-22: Why would they need the loan in a few months if they started making money? They needed the money now.
Instead of a symbol of the city’s resilience, the Tortilleria could have been a cautionary tale warning entrepreneurs against taking risks in this economy.
Fortune has changed rather abruptly at the tortilla shop. Yesterday, the pressure of paying bills was replaced by the pressure of lines out the door. It seems the publicity from recent media coverage has done wonders for business. Instead of worrying how they would pay their workers, they were looking to hire more.
Ruiz, answering the phone, didn’t even have time to talk.
“We’re getting destroyed right now,” he said, in a good way.