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Tortilla maker supplies his eatery and others

Anne Knowles

Twelve years ago, Juan Ibarra, almost on a whim, bought a tiny Reno restaurant that served authentic Mexican food, including homemade tortillas.

“I saw this little place for sale and my friends told me I could run a restaurant,” said Ibarra, who at the time worked in a Los Angeles restaurant where he had served as cook, bartender and waiter at various times.

“So I talked to the employees, and said why is the owner selling the business?”

They told him that the restaurant – El Rosal was a good business, but its products weren’t being marketed and sold well.

Ibarra changed that.

Today El Rosal is the biggest supplier of tortillas to much of northern Nevada.

Its client list includes the Eldorado, Silver Legacy, and Boomtown

casinos, as well as other local Mexican eateries such as MiCasa Too, which has four locations in Reno.

Ibarra still runs his own restaurant, but three years ago he moved it into a 15,000-square-foot building off Glendale Avenue, near McCarran Boulevard, that he built on land he bought 10 years ago.

There Ibarra serves a busy lunch crowd made up mostly of workers from surrounding businesses and sells Mexican groceries to customers that come from as far away as Winnemucca and Elko.

And he plans soon to install several pool tables and a bar to add to the large screen TV where patrons watch Mexican boxing matches and soccer as well as American football.

Behind the restaurant counter and kitchen is a large room where El Rosal’s main business takes place.

There three employees working on a series of machines make corn and flour tortillas – about 10 million a month, estimates Ibarra.

El Rosal grinds its corn into a paste that is cut and made into six-inch tortillas.

Another machine turns dough balls into 14-inch or six-inch flour tortillas.

The equipment can produce 300 smaller tortillas or 150 larger tortillas a minute.

The machines run at different times, because El Rosal has enough workers to operate only one machine at a time.

The workers’ shift runs from 5 a.m.

to 2 p.m.

so El Rosal can expand production if it takes on more customers, says Ibarra.

“We can always open another shift,” he said.

El Rosal has plenty of competition, says Ibarra, from tortilla makers in California.

But the Reno restaurant has a local advantage.

“We don’t use any preservatives,” said Ibarra.

“We make them fresh every day and deliver every day.

I tell the casinos to order only what they’ll use in a couple days.

There is a lot of competition in California but they use preservatives, and a lot even come frozen.”

The tortillas’ freshness has a flip side, though.

That limits El Rosal market to local clients who can take delivery of the tortillas the day they’re made.

Still, that’s enough for Ibarra, who struggled for years to turn El Rosal into a profitable business.

For two years after he bought the restaurant, his family continued to live in southern California and he continued to work in the Los Angeles restaurant while he went back and forth to Reno to operate El Rosal.

Finally, in the third year Ibarra said he’d had enough.

He quit his waiting job and moved hi family to Reno.

“I said forget it, we gotta do something.” That’s when business picked up and El Rosal went into the black, said Ibarra.

“Then I paid back my friends, bought the land.

Now I own the building,” he said.

“Well, the bank owns the building.”