Mayra Martinez: An entrepreneur success story
Mayra Martinez and her family built a successful restaurant and full service catering business. Upcoming plans include branching into food processing. The lessons Mayra learned in the process and her words of advice for other packaged food entrepreneurs.
Mayra Martinez, co-owner of Garibaldi Mexican Products, LLC in Wyoming, Michigan, loves the food science that lies at the heart of their restaurant. With a gift for communication and a vibrant personality, you will find Mayra interacting with vendors and marketers as she searches for the best deal and expands the reach of their business. She and her family have built their restaurant from a farmers market operation. Starting with only four menu items and seating for ten, they have grown into a full restaurant that seats 250 customers. “It takes time to grow a business. The harder you work, the more you’ll reap the rewards,” said Mayra.
And grow a business they did. With her husband, mother and father-in-law as business partners, the four have built a successful restaurant, full-service catering business and are now branching into food processing. Using fresh, local produce, they developed a line of various Mexican products that include their signature restaurant items; salsa verde (green), salsa roja (red) and home-style tortilla chips. “Over the years, we observed that our customers had created an ever growing demand for our products. The tremendous amounts of ingredients we were ordering daily to make our salsa and chips became overwhelming. That’s when we knew we had something special,” said Mayra.
Before making the decision to start processing their popular foods for commercial sales, “we sat down as a family to discuss our long-term goals for the business,” Mayra said. She added, “You can’t invest time and money to develop products if you don’t have a clear plan and shared vision. It’s not just about packaging your product; it’s about building your brand. As you go through this journey, no one is going to tell you exactly what to do. Be realistic on the time and money it will take to make your goal a reality. Do your research, get organized and follow your plan.”
Once they made a decision to create and start their new food processing business, Mayra, with the help of the MSU Product Center, rolled up her sleeves to get into the food science of her products. “It was important to improve the shelf life of our products while remaining true to the flavor and authenticity of our Mexican cuisine. I could have sacrificed taste and quality for an even longer shelf-life, but I was careful not to deviate from the family’s traditional classic recipe. This limited my options of going into large retail stores since they want a longer shelf-life, but I had to keep my goals and customers in mind,” said Mayra.
With a longer shelf-life and a more consistent product recipe, the family focused their efforts on brand value and quality packaging. “We optimized consumer awareness by aligning both businesses together (Garibaldi Restaurant & Garibaldi Mexican Products, LLC). Operating under the umbrella of Garibaldi Restaurant proved to be a powerful advantage for our brand. It helped us create new customers at a rapid pace due to the “taste before you buy” method,” said Mayra.
The branding and image is also important to store buyers, Mayra noted. “I cannot stress enough the importance of good branding. The battle of making your product stand out is proving to be more challenging every day. Your brand is the foundation and crucial piece to your marketing communication with the consumer. Your brand and image is what resides in the heart and mind of your customer when there are craving your product. It’s the face of your business. It’s the first thing people “taste” when they see your product on the shelf.”
Financially, Mayra said, “think about how far you can go with what you have to invest. The more you can invest, the more possibilities your product has.” However, Mayra warned that “a large investment doesn’t guarantee success. That’s why a trial period is needed before you over invest.” And testing their products is exactly what they have been doing. By selling the packaged products at their restaurant and at farmers markets, it has allowed them to build a relationship with their customer along as well as gather valuable customer feedback. For example, feedback helped them realize that some customers were interested in buying their product in bulk for use at large social events such as weddings and Quinceañeras that celebrate a young girls coming of age when they are 15.
As a client of the MSU Product Center, Mayra’s final words of advice for others interested in producing a product is: “You must have determination and patience to nurture your business. Allowing your business to grow at a steady and healthy pace will allow you as an entrepreneur to grow. Before you know it, you will be developing new products and new concepts, expanding your business, and laying a solid foundation for your brand.”
The MSU Product Center, in partnership with Michigan State University Extension, provides free business counseling for product development, package selection and marketing strategies that will help Michigan entrepreneurs commercialize high-value, consumer–responsive food products. For more information, visit the MSU Product Center website or call 517-432-8750.