With a 30-pound box of cactus paddles (nopales) and his kitchen at home, Vicente Quintana started a business, El Nopalito Produce, that now employs 10 workers, processing 10,000 pounds a week and distributing in more than 30 markets across central California.
While nopales are a staple of Mexican cuisine, they must first be trimmed, peeled, and cut before they are sold. These days much of this work is done by machines, but Quintana didn’t want to do it that way, preferring to do all the work by hand.
The extra effort pays off. Markets carrying his nopales say that their quality keeps discerning customers coming back and they have a longer shelf life than the machine-processed variety. His quality is so good that some markets have carried El Nopalito Produce exclusively.
Quintana knew that he couldn’t operate from his kitchen if he wanted to grow his business, but renting bigger space and marketing the product on a large scale would need more expertise in issues such as inspections, licenses and business and marketing plans.
That’s where El Pájaro CDC came in. He attended El Pájaro’s 13-week training program, completed his business plan and has been a steady client, returning for help with items such as barcoding and formalizing his business.
In 2013, he joined El Pájaro’s Commercial Kitchen Incubator Program, using the expanded commercial kitchen space to build his business.
“The biggest benefit that he has obtained from El Pájaro CDC is being able to obtain all the proper documentation and all that he needs to have his business operate in a legit way,” said Cesario Ruiz, the kitchen incubator’s facility manager. Cesario estimates that Vicente has received countless hours of individualized support from El Pájaro.
Quintana hopes to expand into mainstream markets with a line of ready-made salads and to capitalize on the health benefits and novelty of the product by expanding into national markets such as Whole Foods and other health-focused grocers and food service outlets.
“He’s in the middle of developing a product that will hold in the freezer and still continue to provide the right consistency and the right quality to the end consumer,” said Cesario. “It’s exciting to see how his mentality doesn’t stop, it continues moving forward.”
In 2016, Quintana was a winner of the Faces of Entrepreneurship Award from the California Association for Micro Enterprise Opportunity (CAMEO) and in the offices of El Pájaro his nickname is “Don Nopal” or the “Cactus King.” At the rate he’s going that title is not too far off.