Feeding Detroit's Future
In a city hungry for positive economic news, nine pioneering food entrepreneurs not only supply a much-needed demand, they also serve as catalysts for nourishing and sustaining the communities where they do business
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Lydia Gutierrez poses with some of the products her company, Hacienda Mexican Foods, manufactures. Her goal is to employ hundreds more as she seeks to expand this thriving wholesale business in the heart of Mexicantown.
Name: Lydia Gutierrez
Business: Hacienda Mexican Foods
Feeding Detroit by: Creating local jobs and expanding her community
In a conference room overlooking Hacienda Mexican Foods’ 66,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Southwest Detroit, Lydia Gutierrez marvels at lunch.
“Isn’t this just too cool?” she asks, washing her hands. Displayed before her and several others is a midday spread of lentil soup, fresh ceviche, and salad, all homemade by a woman Gutierrez employs to cook regularly for her office staff.
“We eat together every day. We’re a family here,” says, Gutierrez, the president of Hacienda.
The family-owned business employs about 100 people who make tortillas, chips, and tostadas for shipping wholesale all over Michigan. Business is good — the company pulls in close to $10 million in annual revenue — but the intimate lunchtime gatherings more accurately underscore Gutierrez’s priority, which is putting people first.
“My job isn’t to come to work every day and be ‘all that,’ ” Gutierrez says. “My job is to be a great administrator.”
For this well-known businesswoman, that’s a high calling that doesn’t require an office or a desk. Even in a pair of stilettos, Gutierrez would rather pound the pavement, doing everything she can to know the community and its issues and keep Hacienda successful so her employees, most of whom live within a four-mile radius, will always have a place to call home.
She says the vibrant food-manufacturing scene in Mexicantown is what will keep Southwest Detroit growing. Her plans for the next year include expanding the business enough to be able to support at least 400 more employees.
“If people aren’t working,” Gutierrez says, “they’re not out shopping, either.”
She still wonders, however, if most people are aware of how much food manufacturing has always played a role in Southwest Detroit. She and her late husband, whose family has deep entrepreneurial roots in the food business, started Hacienda in 1995. Others have been there much longer, Gutierrez notes, citing Brown’s Bun Baking Co., a wholesale bread company since 1929, and Aunt Mid’s, a retail and wholesale vegetable supplier founded in 1948 that Gutierrez says sells “vegetables by the truckload.”
Gutierrez’s ability to see beyond Hacienda’s immediate business goals has earned her a statewide reputation as someone who understands the part that food business, in particular, can play in sustaining and expanding a community. On the day we visited, Gutierrez received a call from Gov. Rick Snyder’s office regarding one of many economic initiatives she has consulted on throughout the years. In addition to her plans to hire many more employees, Gutierrez sponsors a Hispanic Cultural Center (it opened in June on Livernois in Mexicantown), where young people can take classes in music and the arts and learn about higher education.
“I truly believe that business owners have a responsibility to help grow the community,” Gutierrez says. “Food is big in Detroit, and it’s only going to get bigger. For us, it’s totally about the employees and the community where they live, and staying true to what we make.”
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