Ramona's shifts away from frozen meals, plans to open more restaurants

Ramona's burritos are leaving frozen-food sections across Los Angeles

Ramona’s, known for its frozen burritos and Mexican meals, recently stopped supplying its packaged food to vendors across Los Angeles, with the exception of Smart & Final, as it concentrates on expanding its restaurants in hopes of doubling its locations in the next 2½ years.

The move comes in response to what the company says is a more cutthroat retail market, in which Ramona's found it difficult to compete with larger burrito makers that sell less expensive products with more artificial ingredients.

“We use really high-quality ingredients, and we refuse to change the recipe to stay competitive in the marketplace,” said Rob Bañuelos, director of marketing at Ramona’s.

Ramona’s stopped supplying to 7-Eleven, Ralphs and Stater Bros, among others, in June. It now supplies only four varieties of burritos to Smart & Final, which allowed Ramona’s to come up with its own sales package to continue selling at its stores. The brand produces $1.2 million in revenue for Smart & Final annually.

“They are allowing us the freedom to participate in the retail market on our terms,” Bañuelos said of Smart & Final. “It just shows that people really love the brand.”

Ramona’s first gained notoriety in the Los Angeles area in the 1940s for its tortillas. In 1947, Bañuelos’ grandmother Romana opened a storefront in Echo Park under the easier-to-pronounce name “Ramona’s.”

Last year, it sold about a half-million red chile burritos in one six-month period in stores and in its restaurants. Now Ramona’s is shifting its focus to opening more restaurants. The company currently has five restaurants in the Los Angeles area and hopes to open five to seven new locations by the end of 2016.

The company is surveying potential sites in downtown Los Angeles, West L.A., Santa Monica, Culver City and Hermosa Beach.

“This is getting back to basics: We have been a grass-roots company for a long time,” said Bañuelos. “We can now get our fresh food directly into the consumer’s hand and hopefully drop some knowledge as to what real honest Mexican food can be.”

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