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The big enchilada
La Favorita, Denver's biggest tortilla maker
If you took all the tortillas made in a year by La Favorita Tortilla Factory and stacked them one on top of another, they'd form a tower 182 miles high. Laid end to end, the chain would circle the earth twice. The estimated 138,248,000 tortillas La Favorita produces annually are enough to feed every man, woman and child in Colorado 42 tortillas a year. This river of tortillas flowing out of La Favorita has made it the largest manufacturer of the Mexican food staple in Denver.
La Favorita grew from a dream of founder and owner Gilbert Gamez and his wife, Sylvia. A soft-spoken man whose speech displays a slight Spanish accent, Gamez runs his business from behind a large wooden executive desk in an orderly, immaculate office at the factory, at 3535 Brighton Blvd. But despite the formal trappings and his dark business suit, when he talks about tortilla production, market share and supermarket shelf space, his eyes burn with excitement.
Gamez, a master electrician by trade, and his wife, a schoolteacher, were "looking for something to help us achieve our own American dream" when they opened La Favorita Tortilla Shop in 1980 at West 38th Avenue and Eliot on a startup investment of $70,000. "I approached several banks for financing, but they just referred me to the SBA," Gamez recalled. "We didn't want to wait six months for them, so we saved our pennies and did our own financing.
"We were very frugal. Instead of buying groceries, we bought machinery."
The restaurant, which Gamez described as a Mexican deli and gourmet tortilla shop, still serves traditional Mexican dishes like menudo, mole, tamales and green chili. The modern, sparkling-clean cafe, festively decorated with Mexican tile and serapes, quickly attracted a growing business, but it was the homemade tortillas that really took off. "Our concept was, the wife and I are hand-making our own tortillas here, and they're the best," Gamez said. "Come in and get them fresh." As demand …