Iowa City “dreamer” opens tortilla factory to share grandma’s recipe

IOWA CITY, Iowa-- A 19-year-old DACA recipient has opened a tortilla factory because the tortillas from the store didn't taste right.

"We grew up eating tortillas made at home because we didn't like the store-bought brands," Kavir Ramos says. "We just didn't like the flavors."

Originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, Ramos says he can't exactly explain why those tortillas taste so different from his family's homemade tortillas.

"My grandma made some really good tortillas when we were little and we grew up here," Ramos says. "She would come by every year or so and she would make us fresh tortillas and that kind of inspired us."

He's now using his grandma's recipe to make and sell 1,000 handmade tortillas every day at Tortillas Chihuas.

"[My grandma's tortillas] kind of inspired us and [we] wanted to show the rest of the Iowa City community what's an actual, traditional tortilla," he says.

With his dad's help, Ramos opened Tortillas Chihuas in February. They started making 400-500 tortillas a day. They've since doubled that, selling them in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids Hy-Vees, Fareways and Mexican stores.

"They're not circles," Ramos says. "That's a huge thing. If they're circular, I think that's kind of sketchy. If there's a little oddness to it, some burnt spots, it looks good."

Ramos' parents, siblings, aunt and uncle all help out mixing, rolling and pressing the tortillas. He says it's important to preserve this handmade process.

"People have been liking it ever since I've grown up here," he says. "People ask for me for my grandma's tortillas. So it's just something that I'm giving back. We're willing to show people what's actually good with a little effort."

But Ramos says his factory wouldn't have always been possible. His family immigrated from Chihuahua when he was three-years-old, obtaining visas to come into the country. When his visa ran out, the program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was being established.

"I'm just thankful that DACA gave me a social security to do this and open this because otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to," he explains.

After he applied for DACA, Ramos was able to open the tortilla factory with all the proper licenses and IDs.

Ramos says his dreams don't stop here. He wants Tortillas Chihuas to expand all over Iowa and into other states and open a store where he can sell the tortillas directly to customers.

"This is only the start," he says. "I don't just want to be here doing this. I want to sell [Tortillas Chihuas] soon in the future if I can."

Ramos says he'd like to get some educational training to help him run and expand his father's construction company.

Correction: a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Ramos and his family illegally came into the U.S. The Ramoses entered the U.S. legally with visas. Ramos applied for DACA as his visa was expiring so he could remain in the U.S.