Latina of Influence | Carmen Montalvan

Entrepreneur Carmen Montalvan is one of Hispanic Lifestyle’s 2014 Latinas of Influence.  Follow all of our 2014 Latinas of Influence on twitter with the tag #HLTVLC14

Carmen Montalvan was born in Havana, Cuba and at the age of 10 immigrated to the U.S. where she became a proud citizen in 1988.

After graduating from Rosemead High School, she attended Pasadena City College with the intention of becoming a dental technician. However after 3 semesters, family matters forced her to leave school. She went to work as a Teller at the Bank of America in Azusa, where she pursued an 18 year career, eventually becoming a Vault Teller. While at Bank of America she met and married Marcos Montalvan, another Cuban born American. Together they had two daughters who both work in the family business now.

While Carmen was working at Bank of America, Marcos owned a series of small grocery stores in the Ontario community specializing in Latin American products and produce. One store, the Fiesta Market, was an especially fortunate place for the Montalvan’s. One day a Tongan gentleman came into the store and noticed the frozen Cassava. He told Marcos, Cassava was Tongan food. Marcos disagreed for a while, but eventually gave in and said it was Tongan food. All the Cassava was sold in 45 minutes when word got around that Fiesta Market sold Tongan food. When Marcos discussed this with Carmen, they decided that they needed to investigate the Pacific Island community in the Inland Empire. They were struck with similarities between the Pacific Islanders foods and those of their native Cuba. Carmen realized how much she and the family enjoyed eating Cuban foods, and felt that the Pacific Islanders probably had trouble finding products they cherished. So the idea for the business began. Carmen and Marcos researched the Pacific Island culture, and asked their customers what kinds of foods they liked and wanted.

They traveled to Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, and New Zealand and found where the foods were grown, who sold them, and became enchanted with the area. They even learned how to speak basic Tongan. They started importing the desired products for their Fiesta Market customers, and did the warehousing and packaging in their garage. The business grew so rapidly that in 6 months they had to rent a small ware house in Ontario, and Carmen had to leave her job at the Bank of America to devote full energies to the new business.

Carmen was devoted to the idea that she could meet the needs of people yearning for a taste of home, and that became the motto for the Company, “Bringing You the Taste of Home”. The business grew rapidly as did Carmen’s involvement with the Pacific Islanders. The Company moved to larger quarters several times, until they finally acquired their present location in 1996.

Carmen said this last move would not have been possible without the support of the Ontario Redevelopment Agency. The Agency believed the Company would be a valuable community asset and bring jobs to the community.

Author: Richard Sandoval

Richard Sandoval is an award winning journalist who produces Hispanic Lifestyle a television program broadcasting on several PBS stations throughout the United States. editorial@Hispaniclifestyle.com

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