Luz Mendoza, right, and Arturo Velazquez pull tortillas out of coolers they keep in the back of their pickup before knocking on doors in downtown Steamboat Springs on Thursday afternoon.

Photo by John F. Russell

Luz Mendoza, right, and Arturo Velazquez pull tortillas out of coolers they keep in the back of their pickup before knocking on doors in downtown Steamboat Springs on Thursday afternoon.

Family struggles to keep tortilla business afloat after accusation

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Luz Mendoza, from right, and Arturo Velazquez sell tortillas to Tom Lichtenfels and his daughter Margaret at the Lichtenfelses’ home in Steamboat Springs.

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Arturo Velazquez, left, and Luz Mendoza close up their Nissan pickup truck before knocking on a few doors in downtown Steamboat Springs Thursday afternoon. Mendoza owns and operates a business that sells flour tortillas and other items door-to-door in downtown and the surrounding areas.

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Arturo Velazquez pulls tortillas out of coolers they keep in the back of their Nissan pickup before knocking on doors in downtown Steamboat Springs on Thursday afternoon. Velazquez works for Luz Mendoza, who owns and operates a business that sells flour tortillas and other items door-to-door in downtown and the surrounding areas.

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Arturo Velazquez knocks on doors while selling tortillas in downtown Steamboat Springs on Thursday afternoon. Velazquez works for Luz Mendoza, who owns and operates a business that sells flour tortillas and other items door-to-door in downtown and the surrounding areas.

— When Integrated Community Executive Director Tatiana Achcar tasted the food that Gonzolo and Luz Mendoza were selling, she knew they were on to something good.

“I told them, ‘You have a gold mine on your hands. Explore it,’” she said.

The fresh tortillas, sweet breads and tamales the Mendozas bought in Denver and resold in Steamboat Springs starting two months ago were an immediate success.

By using the recommendations of family members and friends in the Denver area, the local couple found the kinds of tortillas they would buy for their own families, and soon the Mendozas had a door-to-door business.

Gonzolo Mendoza, a founding board member with Integrated Community and a local auto mechanic, said the extra business was a small boost to the family and part of a larger plan by Luz to open a store.

Opening the small operation was more difficult than the modest red pickup that houses it would indicate.

Luz Mendoza said she initially wanted to bake her own tortillas to sell in Steamboat, but the health department regulations and required permits made it difficult, so she opted to distribute pre-made goods instead.

Still, she had to go through the permitting process, and the Mendozas became the only permitted tortilla sellers in town.

The Mendozas were distributing about 250 packages of tortillas a day until an accusation nearly brought down the business.

On Oct. 21, Luz Mendoza’s cousin was accused of assaulting a woman as he tried to sell tortillas at her house. The accusation, bolstered by rumors spread around town that conflated the event with a reported rape the night before, took a chunk out of sales.

Tortilla sales plummeted, and Luz Mendoza was left with bread she couldn’t sell. She said she was worried the business would fold entirely and that she would lose the money and time she spent on the permits and equipment.

Luz Mendoza was standing outside the house when the reported assault happened, and she said she couldn’t believe the accusation was made.

Steamboat Springs police investigated the report, on River Road, and found there was not enough evidence to press charges.

“They were upset and concerned that the publicity that came up around this case very negatively impacted their business,” Dete­ctive Dave Kleiber said.

The reported assault took on a life of its own, Kleiber said, becoming a “Frankenstein mentality where they’re trying to find this monster.”

The truth, he said, is that the Mendoza family has followed all the rules.

“He’s (made) a legitimate business. They possess all the proper business licenses, tax licenses, health department, everything,” he said. “There’s no reason for us to believe that there is any threat from anybody associated with this business to anybody in the community.”

He said there were no previous complaints about the business.

Capt. Joel Rae agreed and said no charges were filed based on the accusation because there was not a consistent story about what happened.

Achcar said the Mendozas often provide food for Integrated Community events, and more than that, she turns to Gonzolo Mendoza for good advice.

“We count on Gonzolo to keep a finger on the pulse, to tell us if we’re doing our work right and also if our programs are meeting the needs of the community,” she said.

Gonzolo Mendoza has been a board member since the group’s inception nearly five years ago, she said.

Regular customers

Tom Lichtenfels greeted Luz Mendoza’s cousin, Arturo Velazquez, by name as he pulled up to his Old Town home to find the sellers stopping by his house.

Lichtenfels said he buys tortillas every two weeks and the tamales every chance he gets.

It’s regular customers like the Lichtenfels that have kept the small company afloat, Luz Mendoza said. Since the assault allegation, sales have slowly started to return — they picked up 150 packages of tortillas from Denver last week — but she’s not back to her peak sales yet. She said she also has heard rumors of “fake” tortilla sellers around town who pose a threat and may be stopping people from opening their doors. Her husband said he has heard similar stories and would report any other sellers to the police, but so far they haven’t seen anybody else on the streets. Police said they haven’t had reports of another group, either.

Luz Mendoza sells across Steamboat and Steamboat II in the morning and afternoon as she balances her work schedule with her three children. The Mendozas even bought a red and silver Nissan pickup with a camper to use for the company, and Gonzolo Mendoza said he’s considering buying a “delivery driver” type logo or light for the truck to identify the business.

Luz Mendoza has even bigger plans. She said the door-to-door selling is a way to “open up the market” and start creating a customer base for El Sol, a Mexican grocery store she’d like to start on Steamboat’s west side. Gonzolo Mendoza said he has started to look at properties where his wife can run the shop, stocked with candies and Mexican food not available anywhere else in Routt County.

“We’re trying to make a good living here,” Gonzolo Mendoza said. “Trying to make it a little bit better.”

Comments

wzdeer 4 years, 8 months ago

First: If it were easy to open shop in Steamboat, everyone would do it. There are health rules around and codes in place for a reason! If you think you have such a great idea, then follow it out and open up a shop, and pay the fees, and follow the codes. Second: I am appalled that the city is allowing people to now sell door to door. This is trashy and a cheap way to get around some of the rules. I vote to ban door to door sales in Steamboat and any other part of the county. Take you stuff to Craig where they allow that and vendor trucks ect. I hope this comes to a stop sooner rather than later, otherwise I might have to resort to selling vacs, burritos, mops, knives ect door to door in Steamboat to make a living!

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Brian Kotowski 4 years, 8 months ago

wzdeer:

Just put a No Solicitors sign on your door and get over it.

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housepoor 4 years, 8 months ago

wzdeer Read the article, they followed the rules. The sooner you leave town the better for all of us.

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JustSomeJoe 4 years, 8 months ago

wzdeer - " I vote to ban door to door sales..." Is that like calling shotgun for the front seat? Do you have to actual touch the polling location when you vote like that, or does it just need to be in sight?

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Sara Gleason 4 years, 8 months ago

WZ-would banning door to door sales include Girl Scout Cookies, Boy Scout Popcorn, and school fundraisers? We wouldn't want to support those nefarious activities, would we?

Pilot-and, wait a minute-you are telling me that government restrictions actually resulted in an entrepreneurial couple not producing their own product? Multiply this by a million and you have the result: the US economy. Delocalized production (aka jobs elsewhere), money flowing out of the local economy, and higher costs built into the product as a result of transport and tax. Wake up Steamboat-this DOES affect you.

I hope someone stops by my house soon. I hate making my own tortillas.

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Scott Glynn 4 years, 8 months ago

So instead of allowing an enterprising couple, who have followed all of the regulations and posses all of the required permits, to try and do the best they can to make their lives better, we should encourage them to participate in more tax funded social programs and perpetuate the notion of everyone living together in mediocrity. Very progressive thinking wzdeer. Oh and by the way, we go through two bags of their tortillas a week. They are the best around.

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addlip2U 4 years, 8 months ago

"Still, she had to go through the permitting process, and the Mendozas became the only permitted tortilla sellers in town." Why is she the only permitted seller? This is a democracy and she should not have a MONOPOLY if others are interested!

If I read correctly, the product is not even made in Steamboat. Clearly, local economy is supporting someone "elsewhere", just as if you buy the product in a grocery store. Lets encourage them to produce the goods here to support local economy (from buying raw product, labor and sales)?

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George Danellis 4 years, 8 months ago

On a personal note: the Mendozas are just lovely people and have struggled with some health and other challenges, like many rest of us. Everyone in the family works to do their part, and Gonzolo, in addtion to his volunteering for the Communidad Integrada board, works tirelessly and yet still has a smile on his face when its all done. And Luz is a star. May their spirit of entrepeneurship continue and be an inspiration to all of us.

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housepoor 4 years, 8 months ago

addlib, i bet they are lining up out the door for that highly coveted "tortilla permit" lol no else has applied....duh and I bet 25-35% of the local workforce actually lives in craig and spends their earning there.

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Karen_Dixon 4 years, 8 months ago

The point of the article is that a slanderous and false accusation circulated around town (via text messages I believe, the same way the warning of a rapist spread). It has nearly ruined this small business & hard working family. As a community, we should be careful what we pass on, particularly when it can have a huge negative impact on honest, hard-working neighbors.

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upstream 4 years, 8 months ago

thank you, Karen, for reminding us of the point of the article- these guys have been slandered (or that is certainly how it appears). Neighbors looking out for each other is one thing, but let's resist the temptation to give in to gossip and heresay- it is poisonous. and, on the other note...raise your hand if you miss truck farmers bringing produce down the block and a milkman delivering dairy products before dawn. I sure do. I guess the Schwann's truck and these folks are the next best thing-

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Russell Orms 4 years, 8 months ago

if you are uncomfortable answering the door then don't. if you don't want the torillas or cookies or conversion or whatever, then just say "no, thank you".

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Amy Harris 4 years, 8 months ago

I have bought fresh and delicious tortillas from the Mendozas. I wish them further success and hope that one day they can invest in their own tortilla machine(s) to expand and further localize their business.

canyonwind, you probably have not tasted a fresh tortilla if you believe the ones from Safeway are good. That's like comparing freshly baked bread to what you get off the grocery store shelf!

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director 4 years, 8 months ago

It is very interesting to observe how an article of this nature spins off into so many emotionally-charged commentaries. I ponder what sets off community members the most: permits, door-to-door business, enterpreneurship, monopoly, the meaning of local products... or else, the unspoken fears and biases that reside within? There were very few comments on the principal premise of the story: a self-sufficient, honest, generous, self-reliant family gets injustly slandered. I invite readers to reflect on the true meaning of the actual incident, the need to write an article to mitigate damage done, and some of the negative commentary herein. I dare offer the proposition that this would have never ocurred had it not involved an immigrant family. What kind of community do we wish to forge? What values do we nurture? What messages do we transmit to children? What biases do we pretend do not exist? Tatiana Achcar, Executive Director, Integrated Community (CIIC)

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kathy foos 4 years, 8 months ago

well I think it is very interesting that all this has been written in defense of the accused without a word about the victem that reported the assault.What did happen actually?Something must have occured but maybe not enough to hold up in a court of law,without knowing what ,everyone seems ready to not believe the reporter.Its sort of like when a rape victem gets cross-examined that she was asking for it by the defense.Of course it turns into a race card issue because it involves tortillas.

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SkiTownUSA 4 years, 8 months ago

WZDEER, I agree with housepoor....

"wzdeer Read the article, they followed the rules. The sooner you leave town the better for all of us."

Fantastic people, fantastic tortillas!

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