Tortillas Carolina’s presence in Clinton is poised to grow some more with approval given for a manufacturing facility in the heart of Sampson County earlier this week.
A public hearing was held on a conditional use request by A.G. Thornton Investments Inc. and Enrique Elizondo to operate a manufacturing and assembly business at 213 W. Railroad St., Clinton. Corn tortillas would be produced inside the fully enclosed building, adjacent to the Clinton Rail Depot.
The building’s owner Greg Thornton spoke briefly to the matter during this week’s hearing, held at the City Council meeting. Thorton displayed a sketch that shows four machines inside the building nearest to West Railroad Street. The entire manufacturing process can be completed within the facility, where there will also be a small office and bathroom.
The property, within the city’s Central Business District, contains approximately 17,541 square feet. Hooking up the power, a three-phase system, is currently the lone obstacle in “getting them in the building and producing tortillas,” Thornton remarked.
“He’s going to sell these things before we even wake up in the morning,” Thornton said. “They’ll be in our neighborhoods and our restaurants before we even get to breakfast, much less lunch.”
The Council unanimously approved the request, finding it met four use standards, including that the use will not materially endanger the public health or safety nor substantially injure the value of adjoining or abutting property; and that it will be in harmony with the area in which it is to be located and in general conformity with the Land Development Ordinance.
The Planning and Zoning Board also previously offered its unanimous approval.
Elizondo was not present at the recent Council meeting, as he was out of country to tend to his ill father.
A native of Mexico City, Elizondo utilizes the Aztec process in making tortillas — boiling the corn, cooking it in hydrated lime to remove the husks, then grinding it using big stone plates.
Tortillas Carolina began in 2007 with 1,500 pounds of tortillas made per week. Today, Elizondo and his wife, Denise, own two restaurants in Clinton, one in St. Pauls and a warehouse where they produce and ship out more than 25,000 pounds of corn products per week.
Tortillas Carolina manufactures table tortillas, corn chips and hot tortillas for restaurants, supermarket chains and Hispanic grocers in the Carolinas. Around 4 a.m., staff works to prepare nearly 5,000 corn tortillas at its Southeast Boulevard location in Clinton, delivering them fresh six days a week from the restaurant.
The company has seen its footprint grow in recent years.
Last year, Elizondo was assisted by Ben Holmes, an MBA student from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and NCGrowth, in developing a plan to help the business grow in the coming years.
The Elizondos use yellow, white, and blue corn to produce tortillas. In Mexico, different colored corn grows within different regions, all dependent on the altitude. The Elizondos’ corn products utilize North Carolina corn — yellow corn from Robeson and white corn from Mocksville — as well as blue corn from Illinois.
The Elizondos are trying to get blue corn from this state as well.
“People are demanding a quality product using fresh corn,” Elizondo said in a feature with The Independent earlier this year. “The shelf life is never more than three weeks. It’s a tortilla with a clean label, meaning all the ingredients are, as much as possible, organic.”
Elizondo has expressed his hope of increasing the company’s production of corn products to 165,000 pounds per week. Thornton said they are trying to bring that goal to fruition at home in Sampson.
“He’s looking toward Sampson County to get back home,” said Thornton. “Everything will be local that he produces. In fact, he’s trying to contract with farmers to grow more corn specifically for his product.”
Thornton said there would be up to 25 jobs created with the production facility.
Managing Editor Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 2587.