How do you go from making 100 tamales a week to making close to 700 tamales a week? You open a tamale business! That’s exactly what Maria-Teresa Hernandez did when she launched Teresa’s Kitchen in May of 2020.
Hernandez, who says she suffers from depression, was actually seeking counseling when her therapist told her to, “Find what you love and follow your dream.” That love was cooking, and tamales became therapy for Hernandez. “Cooking is my passion. Cooking gives me the opportunity to live and to entertain myself.”
With three children to support, however, Hernandez couldn’t make a full-time go of the business right away. But the sale of her tamales to friends and family was helping cover her daycare costs so she could make more. “They [friends] kept telling me, ‘You could sell these,’ but I wasn’t quite ready.”
In March 2019, a grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation allowed Hernandez access to critical information she would need to launch her business. SCORE Kalamazoo/Southwest Michigan and its partners coordinated a series of business startup workshops, in collaboration with El Concilio, called the “Neighborhood Workshop Series.” The series provided an overview of the characteristics of requirements for entrepreneurs, basics of writing a business plan, financial accounting, funding and marketing a business. Each module was presented in a two-hour session with materials provided. In total, 9 people participated in the workshop series; Maria Hernandez was one of those participants.
“I liked that we met in-person and discussed and learned about business plans, how a business works, and important business information. By that time, I had already been working and making tamales, so having the course provided me with a certificate. It was a long but very helpful process. I went to the class for the validation. Having others reinforce my passion was helpful.”
Hernandez also sought support from John Schmidt (Michigan SBDC). Schmitt remembers Maria well. “The Vine Neighborhood Association first connected me with Maria and I worked with her to help her establish her business and get it running. I assisted with the ‘nuts and bolts’ of establishing a business-formation of a legal entity, obtaining the necessary licensing, potential funding opportunities.”
From Schmitt, Hernandez says she, “Learned how to register my brand name, do more social media and marketing research, and set up my financials.”
Fast forward to May 2020 (in the midst of a pandemic) when Maria took her business to the Milwood neighborhood (specifically 821 Fulton St) and launched “Teresa’s Kitchen Authentic Mexican Food” from a mobile food truck.
The business has shown promise with regular increases in sales; from $100-150 per week to up to $300 per week in a short period of time. Hernandez and her family are finding themselves making hundreds more tamales each week.
“To be honest, I’d been making tamales for 12-13 years,” notes Hernandez. “It’s just since we opened the food truck business that it’s become a supporting business for my family.”
Hernandez gives credit to her family for helping her live the dream. “My husband, Reynaldo is a big help. He does the heavy lifting. He drives the food truck too. My two daughters help; they handle the books and takeout orders.”
Operating a business—even on this small scope has its challenges—especially during a pandemic. “This virus caused really bad things; sometimes we have too many people at the truck to serve at once; we will send people back to the cars to wait and we will bring the food out to them. We can’t afford to hire extra staff right now, so we as a family operate it. We wear the masks and follow all food handling safety rules.”
When asked what makes her tamale business different from the next tamale recipe on the street, her response is confident and proud. “There is no lard in my tamales! No one believes me. Others try them and can’t believe it. I was told it couldn’t be done, but because I try to cook the most healthy I can, I found a way.”
To other small business owners with a dream Hernandez says, “Go talk to SBDC and SCORE and all the other wonderful resources in Kalamazoo. I got a lot of value out of that. What I tell my husband is this: “It’s like when you have a dream of a moving train and you have to jump on the train and stay on that train. Anything can happen but you have to stay there. Believe in yourself and take the risk. At my age, in 20 years I can look back and say ‘I was making tamales’ but I wouldn’t have known I had a tamale business until I tried.
821 Fulton St., Kalamazoo, MI, 269-254-4079.