The St. Marys area has a proud history of manufacturing, especially the production of powdered metal products for use in other industries. On Feb. 24, which is National Tortilla Chip Day, it seems apt to look more in-depth at MexAmerica Foods LLC, another local manufacturing company that is focused on making quality products, albeit edible ones.
The company, nestled between several plants and other businesses on Trout Run Road in St. Marys, produces soft flour tortillas, soft corn tortillas, wraps, corn chips, custom products and spices for distribution to grocery stores, wholesalers, restaurants, the food service industry and other establishments in 17 states, primarily in the Northeast and Midwest.
Current MexAmerica Foods CEO Raymond W. Gunn said the company's original owners, Sue and Gerry Riddle of St. Marys, had lived in the Southwest and greatly enjoyed the authentic Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine. In 1987, after returning to Pennsylvania to raise their family, they formed MexAmerica Foods in order to mass-produce fresh tortillas that replicated the taste they liked so much.
"The Riddles developed the formulas and the recipes, and they truly are superior to most of the products we see in the marketplace, certainly on retail shelves," Gunn said.
Gunn and the partners in his investment group first acquired MexAmerica in 2008. Their plans to grow the company ran into a snag when they realized the production facility would not be able to cope with an increase in business.
"The team that was hired to grow the company did a very good job of adding revenue, but wasn't paying too much attention to the production side of the business. What I mean by that is we had grown our revenue outside the capability of this facility," Gunn said.
"People talk about growth being a good problem; regardless, it's a problem and a very challenging one."
While the company took steps to resolve that issue, Gunn stepped in as the CEO in July 2010. Gunn's business background was working as a CPA in one of the largest firms in the country, and then for one of the largest homebuilders in the company. He then started 10 companies in 20 years, took one company public, and became involved in transferring those early-stage companies to other companies' portfolios.
"Then I formed a private investment company and starting buying companies, of which MexAmerica was one, and I liked this company so much I decided to buy the entire company from my partners and move here," Gunn said.
Gunn assumed ownership in October 2010. He said one of the things that appealed to him most about MexAmerica, besides what he termed "a great product," was its workers.
"You know, we always talk about people being at the core of a company. What I saw was a committed and dedicated and committed group of people who loved their company and were hungry for some leadership and a future and a vision.
"And then I saw a need for my skills. It matched up perfectly with my experience. I felt like it was a time in my life when I felt like this was a challenge I was ready for."
Since Gunn's tenure with the company, manufacturing locations have been expanded to two other states in addition to the St. Marys facility to better handle client demands.
"This plant has almost doubled, this company has almost doubled in size since 2008 when we bought the company originally," Gunn said.
The company's tortillas are certified kosher, never frozen in the production, storage or shipping process, certified kosher and have won numerous industry and culinary awards.
While there are challenges facing the business, Gunn said, there are definitely things to look forward to, particularly expansion into the midwestern United States, due to partnerships already established with companies there. His first focus, however, is establishing high quality control standards for his business. The St. Marys company is already compliant with the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Program (HACCP) and is in the process of earning HACCP certification, which is a set of internationally recognized standards for maintaining food quality.
"Basically, it's your ISO 9000 type thing for food businesses," Gunn said.
"We are going to invest heavily in quality, quality systems, quality processes, so that as we grow the company we can impart our knowledge on how our product is produced to those who help produce it for us. Our people will become more educated about quality control processes and systems, world-class systems that we will then use to grow this business.
"We will be focused entirely on quality. That will be our mantra. We will be known for quality."