Ruiz Foods — International Company with Hometown Roots
Mar 03, 2018 11:00AM
By Jordan Venema
All About the People
Story by Jordan Venema
Photos by Amber Smith
IF YOU LIKE Mexican food and appreciate convenience, you probably know about El Monterey. You might even have their burritos in your freezer right now. But what you might not know is that El Monterey is a brand of Ruiz Foods, the largest seller of Mexican frozen foods in America, and founded right here in Tulare County.
Visalia resident Kim Ruiz Beck is the chairman of Ruiz Foods, a company started by her grandfather Louis Ruiz and father Fred Ruiz in 1964. What started as a father-and-son venture now distributes to every state, even internationally.
“My grandfather had the idea so he approached my dad, who was in his first year of College of the Sequoias at the time,” explains Ruiz Beck. “My grandmother was a pretty amazing cook (she had six kids), so they used her recipes, raided her kitchen equipment and started making products. They made about 40 pounds of food a day.”
Under any circumstance, except perhaps a Christmas Eve tamale-making party, 40 pounds is an exceptional amount of food to make in a day. But today, Ruiz Foods makes 40 pounds of product every six seconds, according to Ruiz Beck, who credits her grandfather’s entrepreneurial spirit for the company’s success.
“My grandfather had always been an entrepreneur ever since he was a little boy, always finding things, selling things, making things,” says Ruiz Beck. “He had a grocery store business, a grocery delivery business, and even a children and baby’s clothes store called Frederick’s, named after my dad.”
That entrepreneurial spirit, says Ruiz Beck, lasted her grandfather’s entire career.
“When he was winding down he would work for me in research and development, and I just loved it because he would work on an enchilada sauce or something but he would have everybody taste it, asking what they thought.” In short, Ruiz Beck says, “he was our first salesperson, and we called him Superman because he’d drive the delivery truck and deliver the product then change into a suit and call on another buyer.”
In hindsight then, Ruiz Foods’ success probably isn’t so surprising, though Ruiz Beck admits it is overwhelming, “but we’re very grateful.”
In addition to the El Monterey brand, Ruiz Foods also sells their Tornados brand roller grill products to convenience stores like 7-Eleven and Circle K.
With headquarters in Dinuba, Ruiz Foods also has facilities in Tulare, as well as Texas and South Carolina, employing more than 3,600 people. Ruiz Beck estimates that more than 1,800 people are employed between Tulare and Dinuba alone.
“My dad always talks about people being our secret sauce,” continues Ruiz Beck. “We all embrace that. We know we have an amazing team of people.”
The appreciation for their employees extends to the local community, thanks to Ruiz Foods’ employees starting the nonprofit Ruiz 4 Kids. On April 16 and 17, the nonprofit will host the annual two-day Louis F. Ruiz Golf Invitational to raise funds for local scholarships. In 2017, the invitational raised $450,000 toward scholarships for students in Ruiz Foods’ facilities’ surrounding counties.
“Last year, we exceeded $3 million in scholarships since the inception of Ruiz 4 Kids in 1991,” says Ruiz Beck. “I’m so proud. In 2017, we awarded $375,000 in scholarships to graduating seniors, and this year we started scholarships for community college graduates.”
Perhaps even more valuable to new college students than the money, Ruiz Foods also provides recipients of the scholarship a year’s supply of Ruiz Foods’ products.
In addition to Ruiz 4 Kids, Ruiz Cares is a program that supports projects “close to employees’ hearts,” says Ruiz Beck. “For example, team members volunteer to paint a nonprofit’s office building and Ruiz Foods supplies the paint. Or team members volunteer to cook a meal at the Ronald McDonald House and Ruiz Foods supplies the food. Whatever is important to them, we want to support.”
“Also, the company gives a certain percentage of our profits back,” she continues, citing support for education and children’s hospitals. Team members even “adopt” more than 200 CASA kids by providing Christmas gifts, shoes and backpacks with back-to-school supplies.
Despite Ruiz Foods’ global reach, the company proves it keeps close to home. The company recently opened a museum at its Dinuba headquarters that highlights its founding and history, enjoyed when welcoming visitors to the facility.
“It has early production pictures, pictures of my grandmother, pictures of our groundbreaking when we came to Dinuba,” says Ruiz Beck. “I have a wall dedicated to my father, pictures of him growing up, meeting industry leaders like Sam Walton (of Wal-Mart) and Jim Sinegal (of Costco).”
The Ruiz Foods museum is perhaps the best way to understand how a company with local roots can grow from occupying one small kitchen to four food manufacturing facilities across the country, but if you really wanted to experience Ruiz Foods, your best bet –or bite – would be to visit your local grocer or convenience store to purchase an El Monterey or Tornados product. Chances are, you probably already have. •
Ruiz Foods, Dinuba • (800) 477-6474