Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Elsa Seballos mans the front of Mi Casa Tortilla Factory during a recent burro fundraiser in conjunction with the Safford Women’s Club for the Mt. Graham Safe House. Mi Casa Tortilla Factory is expected to remain in operation through the end of the year.
Business is still up for sale and will have to find a new home
By Jon Johnson
SAFFORD – The burro sale was originally scheduled for next month, but with the possibility of closure in the air, Elsa Seballos wanted to make sure the fundraiser took place.
Between getting maintenance to fix a broken machine stopping production, getting the cashier machine to work properly, checking on food for the Women’s Club fundraiser for the Mt. Graham Safe House, and giving an interview to the local press, Elsa’s morning was a bit busy.
Mi Casa Tortilla Factory at 621 S. 7th Ave. in Downtown Safford was set to close up shop on Sept. 1, but due to overwhelming demand since the closure announcement, an oral agreement was struck to allow the current business owners to operate the factory through the end of the year. The tentative new closing will be Dec. 31, 2023, unless a new buyer purchases the business and moves it to its new home.
After examining their books and making the decision to close shop, Mi Casa Tortilla Factory published a post on social media advising of its closure. The post quickly spread, and the Gila Herald followed up with an article the same night.
“And then all of a sudden it was like a ridiculous amount of people coming in,” Elsa said. Along with the customers, at least four in-town potential buyers contacted her, as well as one from El Paso who wants to buy the equipment and move the factory to El Paso or Mexico.
The burro sale was a success and the business not only sold out of burros but sold completely out of tortillas and shut down early – a recurring theme since the factory closure announcement.
Jack and Elsa Seballos purchased the business in 2012 but not the building the factory and store operate from. The building itself and land belong to the children of former owners Manuel and Dolores Bertoldo, who purchased the building and land roughly six months ago, according to Elsa.
When the current property owners learned Jack and Elsa planned on selling the business, they decided against renting the space to any new owners to operate the business at the site.
“Now that we are getting out, they (the building owners) just want to make a clean break,” Elsa told the Gila Herald. “They are business people and this is not their business. They just want the building and they want the land . . . I could literally sell the business next week if they could just come in and rent it and go on business as usual.”
Since the owners rejected the idea of new renters, that threw a Monkey Wrench into the Seballos’ plans, and they are now looking for a suitable building to house the factory’s tortilla-making equipment, offices, and storefront for a new owner.
Along with all of the machines and business, the factory also comes with the business’ UPC ($30,000 value) which is used to sell items in retail stores throughout Arizona.
The business also comes with employees, some of whom have been there for decades, including 30 years for tortilla-making specialist Althea “Lollie” Benally, who makes the trek every day from Bylas with three of her co-workers. The factory employs roughly 11 and Elsa said the hand-stretching tortilla machines take a specialty that Lollie and her co-workers have perfected over years of practice.
“I just feel like it needs to go on,” Elsa said.
After the overwhelming response from the community and selling out daily, Elsa said she reached an oral agreement with her landowners to continue to operate the factory at its Safford Downtown location until Dec. 31, 2023.
She continues to look for the right family or person to whom she can show her mistakes and help them avoid making the same ones and instead keep the factory alive and well in the Gila Valley.