Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Editor’s Note: Bueno Foods, which has long been a mainstay of the Barelas neighborhood, will celebrate 70 years in operation Tuesday.
Joe Baca and two of his brothers started Bueno Foods in 1951 with a plan to make roasted green chile available year-round.
“Frozen vegetables were really becoming the rage,” says Ana Baca, Joe Baca’s daughter and vice president of marketing and communications. “People were being able to afford freezers at that time.”
The Baca brothers were the first to flame roast and freeze green chile on a commercial scale, according to the company website.
Seventy years later, Bueno Foods is managed by a second generation of siblings, the children of Joe Baca: Jacqueline, Gene, Catherine and Ana.
In addition to green chile, the Albuquerque-based company now offers approximately 100 retail products and 150 food service items for use in restaurants and homes in the Southwest and beyond. The 110,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, built in 1984 and located in the Barelas neighborhood where the Baca brothers grew up, will break ground on a $10 million expansion project in July.
“We’ve worked all our lives to be able to celebrate our New Mexican culinary heritage and honor it and share it with as many people as we can,” Ana Baca says.
The company, which employs up to 400 people in the peak season, is proud of its contribution to the economy of New Mexico. Bueno Foods purchases chile from Hatch and Deming. The wheat they use comes from the Farmington area in northwest New Mexico.
“Whenever we can source New Mexico ingredients, that’s first and foremost,” Ana Baca says.
To celebrate its 70th anniversary, Bueno Foods is giving away 7,000 packages of tortillas, 7,000 containers of green chile and $7,000 in flash grants. The tortillas and chile will go to the health care workers and staff at UNM Health Sciences Center in Albuquerque. The grants will be used by New Mexico teachers to purchase books for their classrooms.
The company is also giving $70 to every employee who is vaccinated or has a vaccine appointment scheduled by May 18. If 90% of the workforce is vaccinated, they’ll hold a socially distanced celebration, Ana Baca says.
“We just want to continue to be a driving force of good in our community,” she says.
What are some key moments in Bueno Foods’ history?
Ana Baca: “My dad passed away in 1989. … Even though my sister Jacqueline had been president since 1986 and my brother had been vice president since that time, they really had to assume a leadership role. Not only a management role, but a leadership role when they were in their late 20s and early 30s. It was a really difficult time.”
What do you think helped Bueno Foods survive that challenge?
“I think that it goes back to the core values. … I think every decision has been guided by those values. … They were what my parents lived every, each and every day. What they taught us. What my grandparents taught my parents. Those have provided the foundation for the company.”
What role has technology and innovation played in the company’s evolution?
“Let me give you an example. So we still process our corn. We don’t grind our corn in the way that they did tens of thousands of years ago. But we’ve incorporated lava rock from Mexico into our machinery, into our tortilla machinery, that stone grind the corn. So we still do that. … We want to maintain tradition, but we’ve incorporated, we’ve figured out a way to do that technologically – to keep the best of both worlds, tradition and technology. …
“The whole thought (that started Bueno Foods) was ‘How do we take our green chile, roasting it and freeze it for people to enjoy year-round?’ And so that whole green chile process has had just an amazing evolution. … Constant learning and constant innovation, constant improvement and striving for that excellence that we seek – it all goes back to that value of passion. And everything kind of goes back to those values.”
So what influenced the company to move to its current location?
“It’s located in the Barelas neighborhood where my dad grew up, and it was really important for Jackie and my dad at that time to keep the business in that area where it’s considered a pocket of poverty, an underprivileged area, socio-economic area. So it was really important for them to build in that area. They were the first and now the Hispanic Cultural Center is there. They were the first to – it was called the South Barelas Industrial Park – and they were the first to build there. And since it has, you know, there’s other players there now. But because of where my dad had grown up, and because of these challenges, of socio economic challenges, they really wanted to build right there in that neighborhood and be able to help people in that neighborhood.”
What are some of the challenges and rewards of working with family?
“I think that the reward is that you can always count on them. There’s a shared moral values system and shared history and shared goals that together we’ve made something from nothing, basically. Just being able to rely on them and having that personal history and background and seeking the same things. It’s amazing.”
What advice do you have for family businesses?
“I’d say that my advice would be to have a vision, to believe in that vision passionately, to work extremely hard and to have perseverance, dedication.”