By Lisa Flueckiger, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Finding all the ingredients for a Mexican meal is not easy in Brazil, but Gary Urban, an American who came to Rio in 1983, has helped with his Sequóia tortillas and Garytos tortilla chips. His company produces flour and all-natural corn tortillas, as well as corn tortilla chips and delivers to over 500 restaurants in Brazil.
Gary Urban’s motivation for producing tortillas in Brazil was this lack of Mexican food in the country, as a native Californian he used to eat Mexican all the time and missed the food when he came to Brazil. “The food in California is practically Mexican,” he tells The Rio Times. So, he built this “dream of making tortillas in Brazil.”
Urban, who at that time worked in container shipping, decided to import tortillas from California to Rio de Janeiro. Yet these tortillas were never to his full satisfaction, so ten years ago he decided to start making his own tortillas.
When he found a former textile mill from the 1950s in Magé, in the Serra dos Órgãos, he had discovered the perfect location for his business, as the mill was prepared to handle the heavy machinery and was close to the highway, which allows for easy drives to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
At the tortilla factory, the business currently employs 33 people, all who come from around Magé, a region with not many employment opportunities. However, they also encountered some problems when entering the Brazilian market, which he described as a “constant battle.”
Also, “it has been such a struggle to make good tortillas with the raw material in Brazil,” he tells The Rio Times.
Yet, “Gary is one of the pioneers to have created these Mexican products in Brazil and to have opened a whole factory for them here. He is very kind, punctual and helpful beyond measures – bringing merchandise on days off and always attending his phone when we need him,” Aglika Angelova, owner of Mexican restaurant Azteka and customer of Gary’s tortilla chips, tells The Rio Times.
At the Sequóia factory they produce 6 inch corn tortillas, ideal for tacos, and 7 and 10 inch flour tortillas for burritos and fajitas. Their products are all-natural, without chemical additives. These tortillas are sold in boxes of 12 to 13kg and mostly supply Mexican restaurants throughout Brazil.
For the end customer (as well as restaurants), Gary has created his “Garytos” tortilla chips, which can be bought in Zona Sul supermarkets and in Delicatessen stores all over Rio. “The chips in particular are very authentic and very healthy (they don’t use hydrogenated oil), they have the right amount of salt, the perfect crunchiness and the right price,” Ms. Angelova explains.
For those longing to cook Mexican food at home, Gary will shortly launch a new product: “Tortijas” – 10 inch flour tortillas to be sold in Zona Sul supermarkets and delicatessen stores. They are expected to hit the stores within a month or two, as Urban reveals to The Rio Times. After that frozen burritos and other products are planned to follow, so watch out for new Mexican recipes, as the ingredients can be soon bought here in Rio.