SANTA ROSA -- In 1977, La Tortilla Factory opened with $75,000 -- including a $50,000 loan through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Almost 35 years later, the 300-employee tortilla-making company has been named Small Business of the Year by the SBA for the Northern California region. The company also was honored by the SBA as the top family business in the Western United States.

The "loan back in 1977 allowed us to start the business," said Carlos Tamayo, a second-generation family owner and company chairman. "That was quite a momentous occasion because my father had been talking about going into business for years."

La Tortilla Factory

Address: 3300 Westwind Blvd., Santa Rosa 95403

Phone: 707-586-4000

Website: www.latortillafactory.com

Employees: 300

The tortilla plant has grown from making 300 tortillas a day to more than 1 million a day. Last year, the company received another SBA loan toward the purchase of $2.5 million in new equipment.

"We bought new state of the art flour tortilla production line," said Mr. Tamayo. "It came with computerized product imaging. We used to have a person watching for irregular tortillas, and now it is now done with computers."

The business now is being run by the third generation of family. When they thought of selling the business, an important step for the Tamayo family members was to determine what everybody wanted for their legacy, which is how they ended up deciding to keep it in the family.

"We have always been a company that promotes learning and knowledge as part of our culture," said Mr. Tamayo. "Our strategic culture is being a learning organization."

Over the years the company greatly expanded its tortilla production and, with its unique product mix focusing on healthy tortillas and wraps, La Tortilla Factory products can now be found in major grocery store chains throughout the country.  Sales have more than doubled in the last six years.

Bob Thompson, vice president and North Bay loan officer with Bay Area Development Co., assisted the Tamayos with two separate SBA loans, both designed to help the company expand its product lines and customer bases.

La Tortilla Factory secured its first SBA loan with Bay Area Development and Exchange Bank in 2003 and the proceeds allowed the company to add a second production line designed to manufacture its new low-carb wraps.

The second SBA loan was secured in 2010 through Bay Area Development and Exchange Bank to create yet another production line designed to manufacture flour tortillas.  Both loans provided La Tortilla Factory with low interest rate, long-term financing that increased its production capabilities and created significant employment opportunities.

Jim Baird, president and chief executive officer of Bay Area Development, said "helping clients significantly grow their businesses is one of the best parts of our job here at Bay Area Development."

"We've had the pleasure of working with the Tamayo family for several years now and are thrilled that they have been selected for this well-deserved honor," Mr. Baird said.

Mr. Tamayo said that 90 percent of the 300 employees nationwide are based in Sonoma County.

"The best part of what we are doing is being able to provide long term employment for so many people," Mr. Tamayo said.