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La Reina Inc.: The Queen of Family-owned and -operated Tortillerias
The 1950s were very good to Mauro Robles. Mauro came to the United States from his home state of Zacatecas, Mexico, in 1952, and before the decade was up he had earned his U.S. citizenship and started a family. Mauro met his wife while working in a tortilla factory during this period, which led him to establish La Reina Inc. in 1958. The small tortilleria operated for many years from a small storefront in East Los Angeles, but the Robles had a knack for developing new products that respected Old World tastes and traditions. By 1961 the family-owned and -operated company’s success with flour tortillas required it relocate to a state-of-the-art production facility, which effectively set the stage and provided ample space for it to establish a strong tradition of quality, service, innovation and integrity that continues today.
“It’s not just the quality of our products that sets us apart from competitors, it’s the diversity of products we offer,” expands Rene Robles, vice president of La Reina. La reina is Spanish for “the queen,” and indeed La Reina rules over a vast empire of over 400 employees and an expansive product line of flour and corn tortillas, plus other corn-based products, which are all manufactured in a king-size custom-built facility in San Bernardino, Calif.
Strictly speaking, La Reina’s empire is split between three operating divisions with the La Reina brand applied to the company’s flour tortilla and wrap products. La Reina acquired Anita’s Mexican Foods Corp. in 1978, which currently produces all of the company’s private label and branded tortilla chips and taco shells, and in 1993 La Reina acquired the tortilla manufacturer La Tolteca Tortillas, which expanded its distribution along the Southern California coast.
Insisting on Perfection
Along the way La Reina has become a shining example of its founder’s ingenuity and innovative spirit. Mauro equipped the factory lines with equipment normally used for other food products, like pizza dough rollers, which he adapted to help churn out perfectly flat tortilla rounds. The tortillas are still hand-hewn, though, as the pizza rollers spit out ovular shapes, which are transformed into perfectly round wraps by teams of experienced tortilla shapers. In the early days La Reina produced primarily corn tortillas, but the factory today churns out over 1 million tortillas, split evenly between flour and corn varieties. The lion’s share of the corn tortillas will be further processed into corn chips.
Simultaneously, La Reina invested in additional infrastructure that increased customization capabilities and provided additional safeguards. La Reina will custom-mix dough according to a client’s specifications, adding flavorings for flair, soy flour for higher protein and low-carb products, and certain enzymes to extend shelf life. Both Anita’s and La Reina’s facilities are Kosher-certified and inspected regularly by third-party auditors like Quality Assurance International, Silliker and ASI.
La Reina’s corn-based products (but not the flour tortillas) are gluten-free. In addition, La Reina has been using organic red, blue, white and yellow corns from as easy as 1987, allowing some of Anita’s products to be declared organic, as certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Anita’s products also use corn sourced only from suppliers who pledge to use only GMO-free corn.
“I spent eight years working for the USDA and a lot of that mentality was rolled into our operations when I officially came to La Reina,” expands Rene. Rene has technically worked in various parts of the company off and on since childhood, as have all five of the Robles siblings. Currently, Ricardo Robles serves as president of La Reina, along with Jackie Robles, general manager at La Reina, and Marisela Robles Parra, who serves as administrative officer. The family’s combined emphasis on quality control has resulted in La Reina being previously named “Tortilla Manufacturer of the Year” by Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery Magazine.
In recent years La Reina has expanded its snack food product line to include extruded corn products like veggie straws. In the future the Robles plan on expanding those product lines with a focus on producing health-oriented snacks especially. “We’re seeing a real explosion of possibilities in the health food market right now, and we’re currently working with our client base to develop new products,” adds Rene. To emphasize this commitment, La Reina ha installed an in-house microlab (under BioMedix certification) to further control safety and quality of products and the environment in which they are produced.
Additionally, the Robles hope to expand distribution to both coasts, as currently La Reina products are primarily available on the West Coast. “Many of our customers are national and we’re very interested to establish an operation that would allows us to expand to the East Coast,” adds Rene. The company is constantly investing in output equipment that allows for greater volume than competitors, without sacrificing quality.
In the meantime, La Reina will continue churning out tortillas and corn-based snack products with the same attention to quality and flavor as always. Mauro Robles, now 88 years old, still comes into work every day, overseeing the family’s enterprises and tweaking things to perfection. The Robles family’s tradition of keeping communication lines open with customers will continue and push the La Reina Inc. team to develop a range of innovative and authentic products that satisfy with flavor and wholesome ingredients.