Rico bean and tortilla plant may dodge closure after finding new digs in Salt Lake City

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jorge Fierro, the owner of Rico Brand Mexican products, at his warehouse in the Granary District, on Thursday, July 23, 2020.

Jorge Fierro, owner of Rico Brand Mexican products, has found a new Salt Lake City production facility and — if all goes well — could avoid eviction and the closure of his business.

Fierro said Monday he has signed a short-term lease to move into the 7,000-square-foot former Western Food Service building at 945 W. Folsom Ave.

“Even though it is a lot smaller” than Rico’s current digs, Fierro said, “it’s perfect for me.”

The new space will allow him to continue production of his popular pinto beans, tortillas and other handmade Mexican foods, which are sold in more than a hundred stores across Utah, including Smith’s Food & Drug, Harmons, Fresh Market, Whole Foods and Associated Food Stores.

“This will allow me to keep making products,” he said, “and keep my spot in those supermarkets.”

One business’s good fortune, however, is another’s misfortune. Western Food Service shut down earlier this year after more than six decades in business, said co-owner Traci Patterson McCormick.

When events were canceled to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the caterer for the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City and the Mountain America Exposition Center in Sandy suffered its first blow.

Then, in June, after months of disputing Salt Lake County’s bid process, Western Food Service and its partner Utah Food Services lost the county catering contract it had held for a quarter century. A new multiyear deal was awarded to Centerplate, which is owned by Sodexo, a publicly traded conglomerate based in France.

Last month, McCormick said her family members were getting ready to put their building on the commercial real estate market when they read a Salt Lake Tribune story that said Fierro was looking for a new home for his business. After an email and a telephone call, the two parties soon were negotiating a deal.

“It was meant to be,” she said.

The pending remains tentative for Fierro, who must get licenses and approval from Salt Lake City and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Fierro aims to simply transfer those food production permits from his current building — at 545 W. 700 South — rather than apply for new ones, which would take more time.

He also hopes his current landlord will see that he is making a good-faith effort to relocate and will forgo an Aug. 31 deadline and grant him until mid-September to move out all the old equipment.

In 2002, Fierro was one of the few business owners brave enough to move into an old warehouse in the industrial neighborhood southwest of downtown Salt Lake City.

Late last year, the building that Fierro had leased for 18 years in Salt Lake City’s transforming Granary District was bought by Woodbine Industries LLC of Sandy. After taking possession, the new owners told Fierro he needed to look for another home to make way for as-yet-unspecified plans for the property. And after six months of searching, the Rico owner had been unable to find a suitable — or affordable — facility where he can continue to operate.

Fierro feared it could be end of his company and the jobs of his 35 employees, but a new home and new hope have emerged.