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Meet Oscar Ochoa of EL Machete

Today we’d like to introduce you to Oscar Ochoa.

Oscar, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
While working as a grant administrator at California State University, Dominguez Hills (Carson, CA), I had been making and selling hot sauces on weekends for about five years (2012-17). Without getting into deeper details, but as a self-taught cook, I had always explored the art of making Mexican style salsas, this is my first love; and to a large degree inspired by my mother’s cooking, not to mention my own love for heat and spice. However, I began the business with hot sauces due to their steady shelf-life. Over time I decided to informally launch a series of flavors and named the brand El Machete, an early 20th Century Mexican socialist newspaper. As a historian of both Mexican and Chicano history, I love to explore the arts and social/political histories of this particular era of Mexico, and this is reflected on some of the names I have chosen for my hot sauces.

In the recent past two years, I’ve expanded my brand to now include fresh Mexican style salsas, rich sauces like Moles and Pipianes (nut-based sauces), slow-cooked beans, non-gmo rices, locally sourced organic corn tortillas and tortilla chips. Now, besides our spicy-hot condiments which include hot sauces and mustard to name a few, producing and selling freshly made foods provides our farmers’ market customers more options, and as a consequence, I’ve experienced more frequent repeat business.

Additionally, we’ve had requests for wholesale orders and have been providing such services to a growing clientele base in recent months, along with retail curbside pick-up on Saturdays. In brief, I did not expect to expand my brand to where it is today, but now see the need for quality, preservative-free, freshly made Mexican and Latin American style pre-packaged foods for the local Angeleno, and my team and I are grateful to have filled this niche. We are, in many ways, feeding families on a weekly basis. Finally, now our team can begin to leverage some of our efforts and join in collaborations to support campaigns aimed at feeding specific industry workers deeply impacted during this Pandemic.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
While working my full-time job, I had been treating my sauce-making efforts more like a hobby. The rude awakening came once I decided to leave my comfortable university job and go “all-in” on this hot sauce idea which at the time only had a small and local following but no legs to really stand on. Over the course of the following three-plus years (after resigning mid-year 2012), I experienced a series of challenges, most importantly was the self-doubt, it was crippling.

During the transition to running my small business, I experienced much uncertainty and some depression. Much of this came as a result of doubting my departure from my steady job as premature. Besides, I had not team to distribute the workload to and had no business model to anchor my confidence in. This was exacerbated by the fact that I did not set aside the right amount of capital to allow my and the business to survive at least one year (ideally 2). In retrospect, a narrower focus, a business plan, and a business incubator program could have saved me time and money. My journey, however clumsy and ridden with challenges, taught me valuable lessons through a series of small defeats.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with EL MACHETE, LLC – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
We are a small-batch producer of pre-packaged Mexican and Latin American foods. Specifically, our team focuses on small-batch chili sauces (hot sauces) and other condiments like hot mustard, hot chili oils, as well as fresh homestyle salsas, and locally sourced organic corn tortillas, and tortilla chips.

We first began making and selling hot sauces throughout Los Angeles County and built our brand through organic sales at local events like street festivals, food festivals, and local holiday sales at cafes, galleries, and community events in Los Angeles proper, and more specifically throughout East Los Angeles. I’m most proud of building my customer base organically. I put much effort into building the brand early on, and it has paid off. But this brand-building effort is coupled with a good product, made with integrity and love for the craft. I continue to take pride in my products, our process, and our relationship with our clientele.

I don’t believe were are introducing new ideas necessarily, but what I do know about what sets us apart is our attention to detail and quality. On occasion, our customers remind us that we make our food with ‘”love”, that it’s evident. I take this to heart. Much of my approach to cooking, and of my Mexican cooks, is to cook how we normally cook at home for our families: with attention and with love. We certainly employ some modern techniques to our cooking process, but our philosophy remains constant. Additionally, we only use #1 quality ingredients, pesticide-free, non-gmo, and organic whenever possible. Everything we make is in small batches, sometimes micro-batches. This helps us to sustain a homestyle product in its feel and flavor.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
Some of our plans include:
1) Expanding wholesale distribution.
2) Finding a small-scale co-packer bottle some of our best selling hot sauces.
3) Improve online presence (content creation, sales & marketing, branding).
4) Build partnerships, collaborations.
5) Invest in local community efforts (food, arts, education, health).

Pricing:

  • Hot Sauces: range from $8 to $14 per bottle
  • Traditional Salsas: $5 to $8 per 12oz or 16oz
  • Specialty Salsas: Mole or Pipian: $6 to $10 per 12oz / 16oz
  • Slow Cooked Legumes (black and pinto beans, white beans, lentils): $3.5 to $4.50 per 16oz
  • Tomato Brown Rice, Paella Brown Rice, and Cilantro Jasmine Rice: $4 to $4.50 per 16oz
  • Corn Tortillas (organically grown corn): $3 dz/pk & $4.50 dz/pk
  • Corn Chips (organically grown blue and yellow corn) : $4.50 per 12oz

Contact Info:

  • Address: Hollywood Farmers Market (@thehfm)
    Mar Vista Farmers’ Market (@marvistafarmersmarket)
    El Machete Curbside Kitchen (672 S. Santa Fe Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90021)
    Most Saturdays, schedule updated frequently.
  • Website: www.elmachete.com
  • Phone: 562-355-8008
  • Email: oscar@elmachete.com
  • Instagram: @elmachete1924
  • Facebook: elmachete1924
  • Twitter: @elmachete1924

Image Credit:
EL MACHETE, LLC

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