After cranking out millions of corn and flour tortillas over four decades, Jose Valdez said he is ready for a break.
The owner of Casa Valdez, Idaho’s leading retail supplier of tortillas, Valdez is shutting down his factory at 502 Chicago St. in Caldwell. The factory will use up its remaining corn masa, made in house from dried corn, and then close sometime in the next few weeks, putting about 30 employees out of work.
“I’m just tired,” Valdez, 74, told the Idaho Statesman. “I’ve been here too long, 41 years.”
Valdez said none of his five children is interested in taking over the business, which he started in 1977 with his wife, Maria Valdez. He said he would like to find a buyer but hasn’t yet.
“Right now, we’re in a place where we’re not sure what we’re going to do,” he said.
After the word got out Friday, Valdez said his phone started ringing off the hook.
“I was surprised to hear from so many people Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday,” Valdez said. “It was nice hearing the compliments from people saying how much we meant to them.”
Kuna resident Susie Nielsen Price said she was shocked to hear the news. “They are the only taco shells I use,” Price said. “I am so sad now.”
Valdez said he followed the migrant trail from his native Texas as a child with his parents and as an adult. He headed a field crew in Idaho and struggled to support his wife and children. He started making tortillas on the days when rain kept the workers out of the fields, using the same factory he uses today. In those days, he lived across the street.
Valdez drove his tortillas out to labor camps in Caldwell, Parma, Marsing and Wilder. Families he worked with in the fields were his first customers. “I thought I could make a tortilla that people would like,” he said.
Later, owners of small mom-and-pop stores started carrying his tortillas. Eventually, grocery stores did too. Casa Valdez products are now available throughout Idaho, eastern Oregon, Wyoming and in the Salt Lake City area.
Fresca Mexican Foods operates the largest tortilla factory in the Treasure Valley, producing 3 million tortillas a day at its plant at 11193 Emerald St. in Boise. Most of its tortillas are sold to wholesalers, with a small number available in the frozen seciton of Whole Foods and the Boise Co-op, under the Tortilla Revolution brand. Rodriguez Bakery in Nyssa, Oregon, makes flour tortillas available at WinCo stores.
He declined to say how many tortillas his factory churns out. In 2015, the Idaho Press-Tribune reported that Casa Valdez made 15,000 to 20,000 tortillas a day.
The company goes through two semitrailer loads of dried corn and one truckload of flour a week.
Casa Valdez is in the Tortilla Industry Association’s Hall of Fame. In 1989, Valdez was named Idaho’s Small Business Person of the Year by the Small Business Administration. He sponsors a scholarship for migrant workers and their families at Boise State University.
Valdez was sued after injuring a woman after striking her vehicle while driving drunk in 2013. Tabitha Hammett claimed Valdez left the scene and hid his vehicle from police in the Casa Valdez parking lot. The lawsuit was settled.
Valdez pleaded guilty to misdemeanor driving under the influence and served two days in jail. Valdez said he made a mistake. The case was not relevant to his closing the business, he said.
“I feel like I have accomplished a lot,” Valdez said. “Now I would like to enjoy life before I have to use a walker or be pushed around in a wheelchair.”
The Idaho Press-Tribune first reported the planned closure.