Alta Baja Market, La Vegana Mexicana named Siete Juntos Fund recipients together
Siete Family Foods, a Hispanic-focused food and beverage brand, was started by a family of seven whose motto is “Juntos es Mejor.” Together is better.
That sentiment is shared by Delilah Snell and Loreta Ruiz, two female business owners at Santa Ana’s 4th Street Market. Snell owns and operates Alta Baja Market, a curated market that sells an assortment of products and prepared foods sourced from Mexico, the American Southwest and California, while Ruiz owns and operates La Vegana Mexicana, a vegan Mexico food stall inspired by her daughter that has made a name for itself selling vegan tamales and more.
Although the businesses are positioned as next-door neighbors and would-be rivals, Snell and Ruiz are more companions than competitors.
“When my neighbor wins, I win,” said Snell. “When Loreta succeeds, I am going to succeed.”
Ruiz agrees. “Delilah and I have always worked together,” she said. “We are the only two female-business owners here at the 4th Street Market.”
Their support of each other is partly why the two were selected as 2023 recipients of Siete Family Foods’ Siete Juntos Fund.
“Siete created the Juntos Fund because we are deeply committed to elevating other small businesses in the food realm,” said Veronica Garza, Siete co-founder, president and chief innovation officer. “We are honored to uplift Latina founders and provide meaningful funding to support their entrepreneurial dreams.”
Siete Family Foods bills itself as a “better-for-you Mexican-American food brand,” which produces grocery items like tortilla chips, salsas and gluten-free almond-flour tortillas. The South Texas-based company recognizes that Latino-owned businesses disproportionately tap into personal and family savings in order to support and expand their businesses. The gap is based on limited access to outside capital and, according to a Stanford Graduate School of Business report, when Latino entrepreneurs start a business, 70% of their funding comes from personal savings. In particular, McKinsey reports that Latino founders run nearly 2 million businesses across the country but receive less than 2% of venture capital funds. Those disparities are why Siete Family Foods has committed to award $2 million over the next five years to businesses that empower and support Latino communities.
“Every business starts as a small business, and we understand the inherent challenges of building a company from scratch. Knowing the additional funding struggles faced by Latino founders, we are proud to use our Juntos Fund as a vehicle for financial support,” said Miguel Garza, co-founder and chief executive officer of Siete Family Foods.
On Oct. 9, under the guise of doing a segment on Hispanic Heritage month, KTLA’s Annie Rose Ramos surprised a shocked Snell on camera with a giant check from Siete Family Foods for $30,000. Ruiz’s business was awarded $15,000.
“I actually knew about the fund last year; our office manager forwarded it to me,” said Snell.
The application was saved on her computer for months, but she didn’t get to it before the deadline.
“I was dealing with the streetcar craziness for so long,” said Snell, referring to the OC Streetcar construction that ground 4th Street Market’s business to a halt most of last year.
This year, she vowed to fill out the application, and when she finally did sit down to write out all the ideas she had for Alta Baja, she was overwhelmed with the prospect of receiving the funding to make those dreams come true.
“One of the questions was what would you do with $10,000? and then what would you do with $20,000, what would you do with $30,000? And I was, like, maybe we can get a dishwasher because we have been washing dishes by hand for seven years,” Snell said.
Snell said the money could also help replace equipment, like her current kegerator that constantly freezes beer. Snell also hopes to expand with an open kitchen and refurbish a trailer into a mobile michelada truck.
“I started thinking if we got this, it could change everything,” said Snell.
One of Alta Baja’s employees, Sheila Anderzunas, put together a small altar, or ofrenda, as a way of manifesting the future projects the Siete Juntos Fund had inspired them to dream up.
“People started bringing in stuff and putting it on there, and even customers put stuff on there,” said Snell. “It’s like the hopes and dreams of the store.”
The ofrenda stood in the store under a small computer print-out sign that read, “We recently applied for the Siete Juntos Fund — a grant for Latina food businesses. After 3+ years of COVID & construction, this grant could make an incredible change for Alta Baja — and in applying we were inspired.”
Snell felt inspired to encourage Ruiz to apply herself.
“Delilah was the one that actually told me that this was available, ” said Ruiz. “I am thankful that I got it, but I am thankful that she got it as well.”
Ruiz said her business was among those hit hard, first by the pandemic and then the streetcar construction.
“Things are tough, and we are really just surviving here,” said Ruiz, who plans to use the grant money to help grow her business.
“I definitely would like to get a couple more appliances to help me make different dishes,” she said.
Tacos have been selling well at La Vegana Mexicana, and Ruiz wants to add a vegan “fish” taco to the menu, which would require a small deep fryer. She also wants to reward her staff, who have been loyal to the business since day one.
“I really hope I can get my cook, Mary Mendoza, back to 40 hours,” Ruiz said.
While Alta Baja Market and La Vegana Mexicana serve the community, Snell and Ruiz have also have found ways to support the Santa Ana community outside of their businesses.
Snell has long been an advocate for Santa Ana’s downtown district, organizing the first farmer’s market years ago and opening her previous store, the Road Less Traveled, in the city. She continues to galvanize local businesses affected by the streetcar construction and share information about funding and aid available to them.
Ruiz runs her food stall but also splits her time with her other job and passion, Latino Health Access, working to spread Spanish-language healthcare information in the Santa Ana neighborhoods that aren’t reached through traditional methods.
The women’s dedication to the community was among the characteristics that made them extraordinary to Siete.
“We received hundreds of applications from across the country, but Alta Baja and La Vegana Mexicana stood out for their commitment to community and authentically celebrating their heritage,” said Veronica Garza. “The Latina founders truly inspired us with their efforts to create special spaces and share their culture with Santa Ana.”
Over the next few months both business said customers will start to see changes and upgrades, which will help them both serve the community more.
“I am trying to build out this kitchen and be prepared as a business so when the development and construction finally ends, we are ready,” said Snell.
Ruiz said she is overjoyed that both La Vegana Mexicana and Alta Baja Market were recognized.
“I am really happy that we are next to each other, and it is a nice example of women supporting women,” said Ruiz.
“Juntos es siempre mejor.” Together is always better.
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