Sinaloa, a Hawaii tortilla factory: past and future

Sinaloa, a local tortilla factory, supplies 85% of the Mexican restaurants in the state and is available in almost every major grocery store on the islands. It's been making tortillas in Hawaii for almost 20 years, and it just opened a small storefront next to the factory, where you can get some of the freshest tortillas on the island. Cuauhtemoc Macias, one of the second generation running operations (all three of his brothers are also named after thorns in Hernan Cortes' side and Aztec gods), says even the Sinaloa tortillas at supermarkets can be up to a week old. At the new Sinaloa store, La Tiendita, they'll be fresh off the tortilla press in a day or less. (You can check the "made on" date on the back of the packages, at the top.)

La Tiendita offers a small selection of Mexican and Latin groceries (chorizo, cotija cheese, Jarritos), but the main draw is the corn tortillas (available in four- and five-inch rounds) and flour tortillas (in six-, eight-, and ten-inch rounds) as well as whole wheat, taro and chili tomato tortillas.

Since the factory is right next door, I stepped in to take a peek at how the tortillas are made, a process that is almost entirely automatic. I used to be mesmerized by El Machino, a flour tortilla machine at Chevy's, a Mainland chain. This was like that but ten times bigger.

Above is the flour tortilla press. A machine portions out the dough, another machine proofs the dough balls (lets the dough rest and relax) and then dumps them out on this conveyor belt to be pressed. They emerge…

…from here.

And into the oven. The tortillas, on a conveyor belt, never stop moving.

They go straight from the oven through a chill box (still on a constantly moving conveyor belt), and then are spit out on the other side of the fridge and into a machine that counts and stacks the tortillas.

Above is the corn tortilla cutter (the corn tortillas are cut, as opposed to the flour tortillas, which are pressed).

Sinaloa first began as a restaurant in 1989 in Hanapepe, Kauai. When the Macias applied for the restaurant's liquor license, a neighbor rounded up 150 signatures in protest, afraid that Mexicans would bring crime and drugs to the neighborhood. The restaurant eventually got its liquor license with the help of a political friend who vouched for the Macias. Eight months later, Hurricane Iniki hit and the restaurant was the only place around to get cold beer, ice and hot food. It became a social hub, and eventually, a very small scale tortilla factory for Kauai. The Macias closed the restaurant in '93 and started the Oahu tortilla factory, but restaurants are still in their blood; the brothers are hoping to serve breakfast and lunch sometime down the line.

Sinaloa tortilla factory and La Tiendita, 3239 Koapaka St., 833-6768