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North Bay Business Journal

Tuesday, June 24, 2014, 12:37 pm

Food industry veteran tapped as CEO of La Tortilla Factory

Sam Tamayo named vice chairman, chief innovation officer

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    Jeff Ahlers

    Jeff Ahlers

    SANTA ROSA — The Tamayo family picked supermarket industry veteran and production bakery executive Jeff Ahlers as CEO and president of La Tortilla Factory.

    Sam Tamayo

    Sam Tamayo

    Mr. Ahlers was appointed general manager of Save Mart Supermarkets’ Lucky Stores division in January and has been on the La Tortilla Factory board of directors since August.

    He succeeds Sam Tamayo, who was appointed to the role in late 2011 by his father, Carlos, chairman, and his uncle Willie Tamayo. Sam Tamayo now is vice chairman and chief innovation officer. Stan Mead had been the top executive — the first outside the family — from 2008 through February 2012.

    Sam, Carlos and Willie Tamayo will “continue to ensure that La Tortilla Factory remains a family values-based business,” Carlos Tamayo wrote in an email to company insiders Monday afternoon.

    “Jeff is a cultural fit for our family business as we have grown to know him over the last year as a member of our board of directors,” he wrote. “Jeff shares in these feelings and is very excited about joining an organization with a culture which matches his personal values.”

    The Tamayo brothers’ parents — Jose and Mary Tamayo — started La Tortilla Factory in 1977, and the company expanded to its current factory near Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport in 2005.

    Mr. Ahlers has been in the grocery business for more than a quarter-century, mostly working with perishable and baked foods. He was with the Safeway grocery chain for 18 years through 2004, rising to senior vice president of perishables from vice president of commercial and fresh bakery, director of fresh bakery and divisional bakery chief. Before Safeway, he worked for Albertsons and American Stores.

    “What excites me about this new position are the same things that drew me to La Tortilla Factory as a board member: this company’s incredibly strong values, its legacy of good stewardship, and its bright future,” Mr. Ahlers said in a statement. “It’s an honor to join the La Tortilla Factory family and to help build that future.”

    In 2004, he was brought in to Cottage Bakery in Lodi and prepared the family company for sale by doubling sales over two years. He then remained with Ralcorp Holdings for six years after the acquisition as president of the ISB (In-Store Bakery) business unit, with sales of $300 million annually. That group pulled together private-label and branded products from previously independent companies — including Lofthouse Cookies, Concept 2 Bakery and Cottage Bakery — to supply 98 of the top 100 retailers in North America.

    “Three generations of our family have done a spectacular job building La Tortilla Factory into a market leader,” Carlos Tamayo said in a statement. “We have decided to bring in new perspective and expertise to help guide our company through its next phase of development.”

    With nearly 300 employees and just more than $60 million in annual sales, La Tortilla Factory has grown to become a national brand over the past decade, Sam Tamayo told the Business Journal. Keeping the company a national innovator in healthful, tasty products has been a key goal in the past two years, he said.

    “As we broaden our market reach, we are interested in the insights and expertise of someone like Jeff Ahlers, who has been in both family-owned bakeries and as an executive in grocery,” Mr. Tamayo said.

    Though Mr. Ahlers has experience in positioning a privately owned baking company for sale, that’s not what’s happening with La Tortilla Factory, Sam Tamayo said emphatically.

    “We have a goal to remain a family-owned legacy business,” he said.

    And the company’s need to expand physically to serve markets in other parts of North America isn’t in planning currently.

    “But that’s the kind of strategy we need to be in conversation about for how we can effectively serve our customers,” Mr. Tamayo said.

    In 2012, Mr. Ahlers started JDA Consulting Services. Mr. Ahlers also has been on the board of directors for Just Desserts since February 2013.

    In community work, he is president of Courage Products, which devotes all its proceeds to fight human trafficking worldwide, particularly of children.

    His wife, Kelly, three children and he will be moving from Elk Grove.

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