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Family Owned Tamale Factory Gears Up for Holiday Season

SAN ANTONIO – The customers start arriving at 6 a.m. but staff at Adelita Tamales and Tortilla Factory are up much earlier.

  • Business was originally named El Popo
  • Was first started in 1939
  • Still grind corn with volcanic stones

“From November to December is our prime time,” said General Manager Anthony Borrego. “You’re talking tens of thousands of dozens we will produce during the holiday season.” 

Borrego and his team are working overtime to meet the demand for tamales. They don’t cut corners though. Workers still soak the corn the old fashioned way.

Employees get up early every day during the holiday season to make tamales. (Spectrum News/Annette Garcia)

“No machines making it. We all stir it by hand. It takes workers here to know when it’s done. It’s not like it gets to a certain temperature,” he said. “We still use the old style of volcanic stones, two 18-inch wheels grinding the masa for us.”

It’s a method he takes pride in, a method used by the Aztecs. It wasn’t a skill though Anthony learned a boss – his grandfather, Robert Borrego, Jr., taught him.

“My father started the business with my mother in 1938,” said Robert Borrego. 

“Grandpa told me he needed help so I was here the next morning and haven’t left since,” said Anthony Borrego.

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This business is the hard work of generations.

“My father was working on a little corn tortilla press and my mother would cook the tortillas on a comal. And my role was in a cardboard box underneath the comal to keep me warm,” said Robert Borrego.

“I don’t have any pictures from 1938 because they couldn’t afford a camera” said Robert Borrego.

Back then, Adelita was called El Popo. It wasn’t a very big business.

“During that time our sales were $5 a day,” said Robert Borrego. But it helped his parents recover from the Great Depression.

This photo of the original El Popo hangs inside Adelita. (Spectrum News/Annette Garcia)

Robert Borrego grew along with the business. He’s now in his 80s and took over as owner long ago. When his own children decided the tortilla and tamale business wasn’t for them, that’s where his grandson stepped in.

“When they started it was a stepping stone. But they truly worked hard to get it from a stepping stone to a full on business,” said Anthony Borrego.

These days Adelita goes through 30,000 pounds of corn per month.

For Robert and Anthony, preparing tamales using that same traditional method is only half the secret to success. The other half is a desire to do it right every time- not just for the customers but for a mother and father who first gave it their all.

“The initiative they had and the training they gave me ever since I was eight years old. Stay with your father, stay with your father, and learn every little thing,” said Robert Borrego.

“It’s an honor. It’s something I’m proud to take over,” said Anthony Borrego.

Anthony and Robert Borrego, Jr. answering phone calls at Adelita Tamales and Tortilla Factory. (Spectrum News/Annette Garcia)

He graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in hotel and restaurant management. Not surprisingly, he says all his college projects revolved around the family business.

He says he’s hopes to one day turn it over to the next family member in line.

You can find Adelita in San Antonio on Fresno just east on I-10.

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