Posted Apr 01, 2010 08:30 am CDT
Take two cups of commodities and agribusiness experience, add 1½ tablespoons of corporate and regulatory background, mix well with several years of part-time public interest work, fold in Mexican-American parents with their own tamale catering business, and bake inside a well-oiled business plan.
That’s Nancy Andrade’s recipe for success for Mexifeast Foods, her Chicago-based tamale company that now sells to stores like Whole Foods Market and Wal-Mart.
The entrepreneurial bug first bit Andrade during her time as a corporate and regulatory attorney at Katten Muchin Rosenman in Chicago. As the only Mexican-American attorney in the office, she also became the in-house expert on everything Mexican. “For some reason, tamales always came up; people asked, ‘Where can I get good tamales?’ ” Andrade recalls.
At first, Andrade started taking orders for her parents’ tamale business, but when those skyrocketed she decided it was time to start her own business. She left Katten in 2001 to start Mexifeast but also worked part time at a legal services agency to help pay the bills.
Before that Andrade logged time as the Illinois state trade director of Latin-American agribusiness (based in Mexico City) and as a commodities lawyer for another Chicago firm.
She credits all of her experience for her eventual success in the tamale business. “Everything has been a steppingstone,” she says. “My work in Mexico is where I really got the bug to be in the food industry. I got to see how corn is cultivated, how it’s sold. … Katten gave me valuable experience in the basics of business law [and] how transactions play out in the corporate setting. When dealing with Wal-Mart and Whole Foods, it came as no surprise that it took more than a year. I spoke the corporate language. I was very familiar with the corporate culture.”
Mexifeast sells chicken, beef and pork tamales in the frozen section of most of its vendors, along with a “natural line” of chicken chipotle, vegetarian and vegan tamales in the refrigerated section of Whole Foods, where Andrade does product demos on the weekends.
“My biggest joy is when I see a small child on a shopping cart—they can be Asian or Anglo—and they say, ‘Mommy, Mommy, look, yum, tamales.’ That’s when I realize we’ve gone global,” Andrade says.