This is the second in the Star's series about some of the tortilla makers in the Old Pueblo. Part One here.
Esperanza Arevalo wakes up at 3 a.m. every day to make tortillas. She sometimes receives help from her husband and sister-in-law, but for the most part, she’s a one-woman show.
Tortilleria Arevalo started with Esperanza’s father, Javier Arevalo, shortly after 9/11. At the time, Esperanza had just been laid off from her job, so she began helping her father. Years later, when Javier was diagnosed with cancer, Esperanza stepped up and took over the business.
Although making tortillas as a business was foreign to her and her father, Esperanza grew up making homemade tortillas — to her own resentment at the time.
“When we were small, my mom would teach us how to make tortillas and I hated it,” Esperanza says. Little did she know that her dislike for the craft would turn into a successful business.
Tortilleria Arevalo specializes in mesquite tortillas, which are made with Peruvian mesquite flour. They’re said to be high in fiber and protein and healthier than a regular flour tortilla.
The adventure toward mesquite tortillas all started when Gary Nabhan asked the Arevalos to try their hand at mesquite tortillas. He is the University of Arizona Southwest Center’s Kellogg Endowed Chair in Southwestern Food Systems.
“Gary Nabhan gave the mesquite flour to my dad and told us to try to figure out a formula,” Esperanza says.
After nearly a year of trial and error, the father-daughter duo perfected the recipe.
“You can find recipes online, but it’s just not the same,” Esperanza says. “It’s funny. The mesquite tortillas are very sensitive. The recipe has to do with the exact temperature of the water, the weather outside, and your mood.”
She says if you’re not in the mood to make tortillas, forget about it. They’ll turn out horribly. But if you’re actually in the mood to make them, they’ll come out perfect.
The mesquite tortillas are made with mesquite flour, whole wheat flour, amaranth flour, olive oil, water, a tap of salt and baking powder.
“Everything has to be measured out perfectly,” Esperanza says.
After the correct measurements are made, they get tossed into Esperanza’s two KitchenAid mixers. She then presses and cooks the tortillas by hand. The process is time consuming and a lot of hard work, she says.
“You have to have an art for it,” she says. “The mesquite tortillas have been our little gold mine.”
Besides the mesquite version, Tortilleria Arevalo also offers regular flour and corn tortillas in addition to chipotle, spinach, gluten-free, and non-GMO options. She also started to make cauliflower tortillas.
“We’re trying to make things healthier,” she says. “And we wanted to do something a little different.”
The tortilleria also serves mesquite pancake mix, sweet Peruvian mesquite meal, and almond mesquite cookies and prickly pear cookies. The cookies have no sugar in them, so Esperanza says they’re perfect if you’re watching your weight. The cookies are also popular in New Mexico — Esperanza ships out about 80 packages every other week.
Esperanza says that business really started to bloom in 2007, after an Arizona Daily Star reporter purchased the tortilleria’s mesquite tortillas and wrote an article about it.
“We were making about 10 dozen tortillas every two-three weeks,” Esperanza says. “After the article was published, we were making close to 400 dozen a month. It just took off.”
Esperanza has her own shop located near the Ryan Air Field on Ajo Way near Valencia Road. Her tortillas are also sold at the New Life Health Center on Speedway and the Aqua Vita Natural Food Market on Country Club. But her most popular locations are at Heirloom Farmers Markets across Tucson.
“My product has no preservatives, so it needs to sell right away,” Esperanza says. Farmers markets were the option that made the most sense, she says.
“My customers always look for me because of my mesquite tortillas,” Esperanza says. “They get upset if we don’t have what they’re looking for, so I always make sure they get their product.”
Esperanza hopes to snag a deal with Natural Grocers in the future.
“It’s a good feeling knowing that your product is good,” she says. “I’m very proud of it. I love my business. I enjoy it, I look forward to it, and I’m happy.”