Every neighborhood has a business, or a few, that serve as its backbone. In the far-east corner of Bushwick, that business is Mi Barrio Tortilleria-Azteca Linda.
Mi Barrio Tortilleria, at 913 Flushing Ave., is a tortilla factory and a distributor of Latin food products and fresh produce. When it opened 35 years ago, it was the first tortilla factory in Brooklyn. Eventually, the area between the Jefferson L and the Flushing JMZ stops became known as the Tortilla Triangle.
Today, the first tortilla factory remains as one of the last.
“There’s only three of us left in this area,” said Miguel Carrera, owner of both Mi Barrio and Azteca Linda. “One on Grand [Street], us, and Los Hermanos.”
Carrera took over Mi Barrio Tortilleria as a sole owner eight years ago. Though he grew up in Borough Park, Carrera has a long history with Mi Barrio: for many years, his father was a driver for the company.
“About 18 years ago, he [my father] took a leap of faith and opened the cheese plant,” Carrera said, referring to Azteca Linda across the street. “I learned that business, I love that business; you’re making stuff, you’re creating.”
Working with his father across the street, Carrera developed a strong relationship with the original Mi Barrio owners. When they offered him the company, he jumped on the chance.
“It was a gamble,” Carrera said. “It was honestly the best decision I ever made. It was the hardest decision I ever made, but its all about the people, it’s all about the staff. If you have really good people, you grow because they allow you to grow. You’re only as good as them.”
With Carrera at the helm, Mi Barrio has definitely grown, staff at the factory say. At the time he took over, the business focus was on retail and the company was consistently in the red. Carrera flipped that model, focusing 90 percent of the business on food service.
“I didn’t try to fix a company that had already failed,” said Carrera. “I tried making a company that would win, that could succeed. The only way I could do that was to take what I knew and what I had learned across the street [at Azteca Linda] here.”
What he learned at Azteca Linda are solid basics for any business: focus on quality and improving it at all times; concentrate on the community and hire hardworking and talented locals; take care of your customers and create custom products. Carrera believes that a business should even decline new clients, if taking them on would hurt the service provided to existing ones.
Some of Mi Barrio’s customers include Casa Enrique in Long Island City, which is the only Mexican restaurant in NYC with a Michelin star. Closer to home, the tortilleria sells to virtually every Bushwick restaurant with tortillas on the menu, from the humblest taco counter to the newest fine-dining spot.
“We try to work with a lot of the restaurants and small businesses that are here [in Bushwick],” said Carrera. “That’s how it is. Everything is in the neighborhood.”
All images by Andrew Tobia unless otherwise noted