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With a journalism degree from Florida and a career in water sports, how in the world did I become la presidente of Tres Picosos?
I was a transplant to Colorado where my father-in-law, Gus, and my husband, Shultz, had been running a food manufacturing facility for years. They were making seafood salads, sushi, green salads, rice bowls, and other niche foods for a variety of customers. Shultz also was a broker to the convenience industry and had many friends and colleagues in the business. With three small children at home, I only came in periodically to help with creative marketing and PR. Then Shultz’s biggest client internalized its sales team in 2004, so he took a full-time position with them. I stepped up and added a bit of bookkeeping, HR and operations management to my resume.
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One of our favorite retailers, Mark Norek at Western Convenience, visited us one day with a foil-wrapped, barely labeled burrito. He loved the flavors and the authenticity, but the food producer didn’t operate a USDA-inspected plant. That means the company was severely limited in the amount of meat it could include products. (I’m still fanatical about producers who break this USDA rule.) He wasn’t willing to risk his customers’ foodservice safety, and he asked if we could make an authentic homestyle Mexican burrito at our plant.
“Si, se puede!” I’d learned Spanish growing up in Florida, so I was all geeked up.
Our production manager – from Mexico – came up with the design for “Tres Picos” for “three spicy peppers,” and immediately we loved it. I don’t think we considered any other names. (Once there was an ill-fated “Sancho’s” concept, but we have to save that for a personal conversation over a cerveza or dos.) The outstanding David Allen Design of Denver developed our logo, and I did our marketing communications, sombrero wearing, and Spanish translation.
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So Tres Picos was born in 2005 as a daily delivered, hot, foil-wrapped burrito. Breakfast flavors rocked from the start, and we were serving about 125 convenience stores and coffee shops along the Front Range. (For you Yankees and Southerners, that means a lot of miles up and down the Eastern side of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.) My mother Liz (former librarian, everything in order) even joined us to help keep track of customers, and she was way more popular with them than I was. Dios Mio! The daily delivery, and hot product, and invoice reconciling, and so many miles, and more customers, and increasing gas prices took its toll. We had to use resources more wisely, and in 2008 we eliminated daily delivery and went to weekly deliveries. My own work week was expanding exponentially as burrito sales grew, and remember, I have these three ninos a casa.
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In the production room I only was allowed to label or box burritos. We’ve always had a Mexican head chef. Though never verbalized in neither English nor Spanish, empleyados thought the jefa (boss lady) was too despacia (slow) to do the real work of scooping fillings and rolling tortillas. It was unquestionable that I’d attempt to griddle eggs or make a batch of hot green chile. It’s best to leave that to the professionals.
Meanwhile, I was thinking about the literal translation of “Tres Picos,” which is “three peaks” like a mountaintop or “three beaks” like a bird. The spicy Mexican tomato and onion salsa is called “Pico de Gallo” which literally means “beak of the rooster.” You know how phrases and idioms morph over time: “pico” had come to mean “spicy” or “hot” in the Spanish language of Mexico. I wanted to modify our name to “Tres Picosos” for a more literal translation and personification of our logo: “Three Hotties.” Plus I could obtain a trademark for that name.
On my way to the plant one morning, I was behind a cute bright blue pickup driven by a pretty Hispanic woman.
Her vanity license plate said “PICOSA,” essentially a self- proclaimed “HOTTIE.”
My decision was made, but in the spirit of democracy I put it up for a vote and the empleyados backed “Tres Picosos.” We added a couple of letters to our logo in 2008 and here we are.
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In 2009 Tres Picosos participated in Core-Mark’s annual Grab Heat ‘N Eat program and gained national distribution to all their warehouses. McLane Company also began more widespread distribution of Tres Picosos at the same time. My sombrero-wearing and musica-latina-playing at trade shows was paying off. Maverik stores out of Salt Lake City was a tremendous retail customer which really knows foodservice well. At “adventure’s first stop”, Chef Ryan Olsen got Maverik’s bakery managers behind the hot foil-wrapped burrito program. Now they make their own burritos at store level! I applaud their achievement of the holy grail of foodservice even though it meant adios for Tres Picosos.
We continued to grow Tres Picosos by gaining distributor relationships, and in January 2011 we discontinued local deliveries altogether. Instead, we’d pack up and ship cases to distributors who could do the work of getting product to retailers a lot better than we could. We had outgrown our production abilities – my father-in-law was aging, and Shultz joined Quiznos full time to sell franchises to the non-traditional (convenience) marketplace.Thus I entered into my first relationship with a contract manufacturer, and I learned a lot. I’ve always been good with a euphemism.
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After several months of hell, I decided I only wanted to produce Tres Picosos and forego the other product lines. (Actually, the sushi line is my sentimental favorite and I still cater sushi parties. It’s just like rolling burritos.) So I purchased the Tres Picosos brand from my family’s company in 2011 and formed Tres Picosos LLC, with outsourced manufacturing.
McLane Company came on board nationally in 2011 to serve our friends at Flying J and Pilot Travel Centers! In late 2012 we had two more changes: my dear father-in-law Gus passed away, and Shultz furthered his career by joining Einstein Noah Bagel to develop franchises in non-traditional channels. In January 2013 Tres Picosos began a distribution arrangement with DOT Foods which is even better able to serve distributor customers on a national level.
I realize this might make it all sound easy, and it’s not. It’s business. But it’s really fun. If you see a smiling middle-aged lady in a sombrero in an airport, it’s probably me. Please introduce yourself and say “hola.”
About La Presidente >
Q. Hola Jane. Nice sombrero. How did you begin your burrito business?
Q. What is, or are, "Tres Picosos"?
Q. Are you introducing any new products?
Q. How has Tres Picosos grown in a down economy?
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Q. To what do you attribute your company's success?
Q. Do you really speak Spanish or are you just pretending?
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