This year is the start of a new era for Golden State Warriors basketball as the team has packed its bags from the old Oracle Arena in Oakland to the shiny new Chase Center in downtown San Francisco. The move across the bay will also coincide with a new line of food options that represent some of the Bay Area’s diverse foodscape. This will include the addition of tamales from an entrepreneur that has waited close to 20 years for an opportunity like this.
Say hello to Alicia Villanueva, 58, who just landed a contract to sell her tamales at the new arena. Her story is one that represents the best of the American dream and shows the value of hard work.
Born in the city of Mazatlan, in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico, Villanueva immigrated to the U.S. with a dream to start a business selling tamales. Since a young age, she had been stuffing tamales with her mother and her abuelita. She believed tamales could be a way to connect her story to those of the people around her and as a way to make a living for her family. But this wouldn’t be easy and it would also take a lot of sacrifice on her behalf.
So Villanueva hustled. During the day she would clean houses and take care of the disabled. Then at night, she would turn her attention over to tamales where she would make close to 100 tamales a day and up to 500 tamales in a single week. She would then take to the streets going door to door in her Berkeley neighborhood and at local job sites selling tamales.
“I would knock on doors and introduce myself” after picking up her two young sons from school, Villanueva told the Mercury News. “Some of them became huge customers.”
Thanks to the help of San Francisco-based kitchen incubator La Cocina, who is also her partner in the contract with Chase Center, Villanueva’s dream is slowly becoming a reality.
Alicia’s Tamales Los Mayas is now getting its time in the spotlight thanks to its partnership with La Cocina, a nonprofit that provides kitchen space and financial training for talented women entrepreneurs. There was also assistance from the Opportunity Fund, another nonprofit that lends money to entrepreneurs who might not qualify for certain loans from other banks. Thanks to that money, Villanueva has taken her tamale business from her Berkeley kitchen to a new 6,000-square-foot facility in Hayward, where she and her 24 employees are able to make 40,000 tamales a month.
“We have a moral obligation to say yes to people like Alicia,” Luz Urrutia, CEO of San Jose-based Opportunity Fund told the Mercury News. “She embodies the American dream, the entrepreneurial spirit.” She says that when entrepreneurs like Villanueva get financial assistance it creates a “ripple effect in our communities.”
All she ever wanted was for someone to take a chance on her tamales and now this the start of what Villanueva hopes is a growing food business that has been years in the making.
The sky now seems to be the limit for Villanueva as she is looking to grow even more. As of now, she is having conversations with Whole Foods to hopefully sell her frozen tamales at hot bars in certain stores this December. This will be in addition to the tamales she already sells at Berkeley Bowl and UC Berkeley.
With an increasing demand for her tamales, there is also an opportunity to try new things like introducing organic and vegan options. As well as having her business become zero waste and hopefully start a community garden for the public.
Things are moving quickly for Villanueva and her family, who assist her every day making tamales, as the business has come full circle after years of just getting by. Tamal orders are coming in every day and with her new partnership with the Warriors, who just last week asked her to deliver 5,000 tamales to the Chase Center, things are finally falling into place.
“I just can’t believe it,” Villanueva said while showcasing all of her new cooking equipment she was able to purchase due to the loan. “I’m living a beautiful dream.”
The Mazatlan Post