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Discover Western Prince William August 2017
As time passed, their customer base grew, and they
even launched a successful Mexican food restaurant,
using many of Carmen's recipes. Eventually, Eugene
Sr. and Bill decided to go their separate ways, with the
former continuing the tortilla manufacturing and the latter
keeping the restaurant. In the early 1980s, after a hiatus
from the business, Gene returned and engineered the
move from Herndon to a custom-built facility in Manassas
Park, where it has been ever since.
Gene and his wife Peggy (who has also worked for the
company for 27 years) explain that although its trade
name is S&K Industries, the company's products are
manufactured and sold under three brand names, including
Abuelita, Casa de Carmen, and Nana's Cocina. In addition
to corn and flour tortillas as well as flavored wraps, they
make just about any variation on a tortilla chip known to
man! Chips can be made of yellow, white, or blue corn;
they can be round, triangular, or in strip form, flavored
(guacamole, spicy salsa), salted or unsalted! They even
make "raw" chips, which are refrigerated and sent to
restaurants to fry onsite and serve fresh to customers.
Word of mouth played an important role in helping the
company grow in its early years, but eventually it connected
~ Nancy Griffin-Bonnaire
Today, it's easy to find authentic Mexican food staples
like tortillas and chips in our area, but this wasn't always
the case. Nearly 50 years ago, two friends who worked
for the United States government changed that. Eugene
Suarez, Sr., the Chief of Police for the Bureau of Indian
Affairs, and Bill King, an anthropologist, regularly spent
time with congressmen that hosted state society dinners
and other large events for their constituents who had
moved to Washington, DC. When those from southwestern
states clamored for Mexican food, a congressman asked
if anyone knew how to make it. Eugene answered the
call, despite no real experience!
After failed attempts to have tortillas shipped from Arizona
(often arriving broken, stale, or otherwise inedible),
Eugene and Bill decided to learn the craft of making
tortillas from scratch. In 1971, they purchased a small line
of machines, including cook tanks, an oven, and other
needed accoutrements, and rented a small building in
Herndon. Bill studied the art of making tortillas, and the
pair sought the cooking expertise of Eugene's mother,
Carmen, a native of Hermosillo, Mexico.
The operation launched, and S&K (for Suarez and King)
Industries was born. The two men kept their government
day jobs, so all of the work producing corn tortillas was
done at night! On their way home from Washington,
DC, they'd stop by a flour mill to pick up 200 pounds
of corn, which was brought to their facility, ground and
made into tortillas, and
delivered to a handful of
clients--all restaurants.
It was a family business
of the most literal
definition! Bill, his wife
and their two daughters,
Eugene Sr., and his son
Eugene Jr. (Gene), as
well as a few other
local friends started
production at around
8:00 p.m. each evening
and finished in the wee
hours of the morning,
delivering fresh tortillas
i m m e di ate l y af te r
making them.
with a broker network. Today, the grand majority of its
products are sold to distributors and foodservice companies,
but it also sells to retail companies, such as Costco,
Whole Foods, and Harris Teeter, and even some small
specialty shops. Its reach extends up and down the East
Coast and into parts of the Midwest and Ontario, Canada.
In addition, it has a presence in several local school
districts, with specific
products being used
in Prince William
County Schools,
Fairfax County
Schools, Anne
A r u n d e l
C o u n t y
Schools, and
The company
h a s a l w a y s
remembered its
roots and remains
loyal to employees
while responding to
local needs. It speaks
volumes that many
of its employees
have been there for
20 years or more,
and they are well-
rewarded for their
hard work. In addition,
the business regularly
donates to countless
causes, including schools, fire and police departments,
homeless shelters, and food pantries. Gene notes that
they delight in presenting to local groups as well. He
recalls one such event--a Career Day at nearby Cougar
Elementary School--when he described how a bag of
corn is ground up to become nixtamal and used to make
tortillas and chips. The kids' favorite part was sampling
the end product!
It takes a lot to launch a business and continue holding it
to the highest standards. It takes even more to do so and
remain successful over an extended period. This company
had done both, and chip lovers far and wide are grateful!
To learn more, visit
Abuelita Mexican Foods:
Creating Mexican Specialties in Manassas Park
Gene and Peggy Suarez hold two of the many types of tortilla chips
manufactured in their Manassas Park facility. The guacamole chips
are a universal favorite!
Carmen Suarez (Gene's grandmother), the family matriarch,
set the high standards for Abuelita products, which are made
with simple ingredients using traditional methods.
Each of these bags holds 2,000 pounds of whole yellow
corn kernels. The facility uses dozens of these each week.
Long-time supervisor Martha Bustillo
conducts quality control checks on
tortillas. All products pass through
metal detectors before being packaged.
These raw tortillas are refrigerated and
shipped to restaurants, where they are fried
onsite and served to customers.
Whole kernel blue corn has been washed
and awaits grinding with
this traditional hand-cut lava stone into
nixtamal, which is then made
into tortillas and chips.