Thursday, February 24, 2005

The American Way

Now here's one of the great company names of all time: Salud and Fortuna. Actually, in this culture, Salud and Fortuna probably don't qualify as a company. They're just two Mexicans, a husband and wife, who sell tamales, killer tamales, on a street corner next to an elementary school in Los Angeles and those are actually their names: Health and Fortune.

I work in the mid-Wilshire District of LA, which is a combination of Korea Town and Central America re-visited. Each Friday, one of the secretaries in the office picks up tamales for all of us. We place our orders on Thursdays and give Lucy our cash. She calls Salud on Thursday night and picks up an Igloo cooler full of tamales on Friday morning on her way to work. Around the Christmas holidays, she was picking up seventy to eighty tamales for us. Most Fridays it's just about thirty tamales, all chicken, but some are 'red' (for the wussies) and some are 'green' (for us brave sorts).

I said the other day at lunch that Salud and Fortuna must be grateful for our order. Lucy just blinked and said, "actually, we're just normal customers. They've got a thriving business on that corner. Salud says they sell about a thousand tamales a week, more around the Christmas holidays."

It was my turn to blink. Tamale production is labor intensive, so making a thousand of them a week, or two hundred every evening, has to be nearly impossible. It turns out that the business is a family affair. Salud and Fortuna live with their daughter and son-in-law. The tamales are made on the weekend by the four of them (with some help from the grandkids) and then frozen. Each night they defrost and cook two hundred, more if they get a big order.

A thousand tamales a week at a buck a pop: $52,000 a year. Masa, chicken, and chiles probably shave no more than $12,000, if that. Sure it's a lot of work, but that's a tidy sum.

One of the more straight-laced in the office asked if they were inspected regularly and if they had a street peddler's permit. Lucy just stared at them, which is a pretty reasonable response to an inane question, in my opinion. She let it pass and then microwaved another tamale for me.

I think that kind of entrepreneurial spirit is a great thing, even if they aren't regularly inspected and don't collect sales tax and probably (although I don't know this for a fact) don't pay income tax on the proceeds of the business. Hell, most major corporations in this country don't pay taxes, or, if they do, they pay minimally. I think if things in this country continue they way they have for the past few years, the underground economy is going to be very helpful in keeping things afloat. And, like I said, these are killer tamales.

Way to go, Salud and Fortuna!


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