Monday, June 24

The Crestone Eagle is a nonprofit monthly newspaper serving Crestone and the San Luis Valley

A family taste of heritage in Center

By Ameille Warner

Although Lisa Palma was born and raised in Center, Colorado, her childhood was greatly shaped by the visits she took to her father’s home country of Mexico. There she saw street vendors selling freshly made tortillas; these memories left a deep impression on her. 

When Lisa was older, she wondered if offering tortillas made fresh every day might be something she could do for a living, something that would benefit her community. In 1997, Lisa and her husband, Martin, started Tortilleria La Unica, Spanish for “the one and only tortilla factory”, and began making and selling corn and flour tortillas. They enlisted the help of their three older kids, and the fresh and authentic Mexican tortillas were a welcome taste of the Hispanic heritage of many Center residents. 

The Palmas expanded their shop to include a small grocery store with basic provisions, spices, beverages, and snacks, as well as a meat counter. Recently, they began offering freshly made tacos, burritos, chicharrónes, and carnitas. Like Lisa’s father, Martin Palma is originally from Mexico. He has a discriminating sense of taste. He can tell you the difference between one brand of bottled water and another, and which one is better. So, when it comes to the flour he uses for his tortillas, he is very selective. When the pandemic shut down his regular supply of flour, Martin went looking for a new supplier that would be up to his standards. He found Azteca Flour Mill in Muleshoe, TX, a family-owned mill using traditional milling techniques and specializing in producing flour that caters to traditional Mexican cuisine. Today, Martin makes the 500-mile journey to source the flour, which he says has a unique smell and taste that he prefers for his tortillas.

The tortillas are made on a machine that takes the dough and creates uniform balls, flattens them, then moves them through a three-level oven where they are evenly broiled. After fan-cooling, they are gathered and stacked for packaging, making up to 200 pounds of finished product an hour. There are minimal preservatives in the tortillas, so they do require refrigeration and are best used within 10 days. They can also be frozen for future use. 

Lisa and Martin still rely on their grown kids to keep the family business open and running smoothly, and now their grandkids help during the summer. The small store is a gathering place for family and locals, and many visitors have learned about Tortilleria La Unica and stop in to try the authentic foods.

The tortillas made by Tortilleria La Unica are available across the San Luis Valley and are made more widely available through Valley Roots Food Hub. The retail store is located at 267 S. Worth Street in Center, CO, and is open to the public Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 10:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. 

When asked how she feels about the role her business plays in her community, Lisa Palma paused for a moment, and as her eyes teared up a bit, she said, “I am thankful for the opportunity to be in business for all these years, serving the community, and I am happy to be able to give them a taste of their culture made with love and attention.”

Photo:

Left to right: The Palma Family, Anjel (grandson, almost 15), Martin, Lisa, and Abelino (son). photo by Ameille Warner

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