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Xinca Foods: Bringing Cultural Pride and Authentic Salvadorian Flavors to Your Freezer

Xinca Foods

The Hispanic community boasts a rich tapestry of traditions. Underpinned by qualities of resilience, vibrant creativity, and a profound sense of unity. Latino-owned businesses are notably one of the fastest-growing segments in the entrepreneurial landscape, a testament to the unique strengths and values embedded within this community. For owner Cynthia Duran, Xinca Foods isn't just a venture; it's a testament to the enduring power of heritage and a celebration of the rich flavors that have brought communities together for generations. After migrating to the United States while fleeing the Salvadorian civil war, Cynthia’s family found comfort in cooking authentic dishes that reminded them of and connected them to El Salvador. Cynthia grew Xinca Foods from a profound love for her Salvadoran heritage and a passionate desire to share its authentic flavors with the world.  Cynthia's story is a powerful demonstration of how culture can propel entrepreneurial endeavors to extraordinary heights. 

The Heart of Salvadorian Cuisine 

Latin American cultures boast some of the most diverse flavors, reflecting the rich cultural mosaic of the region. It encompasses a vast array of distinct cuisines beyond Mexican fare, with each country boasting its unique culinary identity. From the aromatic spices of Caribbean dishes to the hearty, meat-centric meals of Argentina, every corner of Latin America offers a different culinary experience. Salvadoran cuisine places a special emphasis on pupusas—thick corn tortillas stuffed with various fillings, demonstrating the country's unique take on this beloved staple of Latin American food culture. Along with their sweet Quesadilla Pastry, pupusas are the heart and soul of Xinca Foods with three delicious flavorsbean and cheese, a vegan carrot cheese and Loroco, and the popular Loroco and cheese. Pupusas

Xinca Foods stands as a beacon of authenticity in the realm of frozen cuisine. Cynthia sees her business as a cultural odyssey with a mission to connect hearts and palates to the vibrant traditions of El Salvador. Cynthia hopes to see Salvadoran food become as ubiquitous as Mexican cuisine in the frozen food aisle. Xinca Foods represents a culinary bridge where each bites transcends the boundaries of taste to evoke a sense of belonging and cultural pride.  

“Our mission is to make Salvadoran food accessible to everyone, like how Mexican food is in the frozen food aisle. Our most popular SKU, pupusas, are a very traditional Salvadoran dish. We want people to try different foods, because food is the gateway for others to try different cultures. This might be some people’s first taste and we want to make sure we're giving them a product that properly represents our culture.” 

A Fresh Take on Frozen Food Xinca Foods - Cynthia Duran

Cynthia says Xinca Foods has a multitude of goals, but one crucial is goal is to redefine the standards of frozen cuisine. She ardently believes that frozen food can rival the quality of any fresh dish. A conviction echoed in every Xinca Foods creation. Each product is a testament to this belief, using no preservatives or additives. What's more, these recipes are deeply rooted in her family's culinary legacy. Ensuring an authentic taste that resonates with cherished traditions. While there may be slight adjustments to meet packaging standards, Xinca Foods products are meticulously crafted using only the purest, minimally processed ingredients. 

“It’s pretty much made from ingredients in your pantry. I guess, my pantry. Most people won't have loroco in their freezer, but that’s something I've always had in mine. But most of the other ingredients you can find in your own home.”  

South Side Story 

Born and raised in the heart of South Central LA, Cynthia’s grew up in a challenging neighborhood with few opportunities. Despite economic hurdles, Cynthia's childhood was enriched by the presence of close-knit siblings, numerous uncles, aunties, and cousins. And a kitchen filled with enchanting aromas and flavors of Salvadoran cuisine. She learned that food was more than sustenance; it was a conduit of tradition and a source of solace. This early exposure to the delicate balance between adversity and resilience would go on to shape Cynthia's entrepreneurial journey in profound ways. 

Xinca Foods - Bean and Cheese PupusaCynthia’s parents divorced when she was just 15 causing her mother to need to take on three jobs to make ends meet. She witnessed firsthand that resourcefulness was not just a skill but a way of life.  One of these jobs involved selling pupusas, alongside running a small clothing store. Saturdays were devoted to serving these beloved Salvadoran dishes. Drawing customers from all over LA to South Central for a taste of their renowned dish. Cynthia noticed how her mother's cooking became a magnet for connections. Cynthia says as she grew older and tried pupusas elsewhere, she realized people would oftentimes seek her out just to try her mother’s delicious pupusas. 

“I'm originally from the hood, and I always say, you either live and die in the hood or you get out. That's the sad reality, you know about it. And so, I was fortunate enough to get a job and move out from that area. But the thing I missed the most was my mom’s cooking. That’s ultimately what led to Xinca Foods—missing my family’s cooking.” 

From Marketing to the Supermarket

After leaving Los Angeles, Cynthia’s path led her to a mentorship opportunity at VaynerMedia with marketing luminary Gary Vaynerchuk. Starting as an intern, Cynthia swiftly immersed herself in the diverse world of marketing. The led to a dynamic career as a marketing analyst in the realm of big corporations. She collaborated with industry giants like Mondelez, MasterCard, and Loreal. This trajectory led her to New York. The frenetic pace and cutthroat competition demanded not only adaptability but also a keen strategic mind—qualities she cultivated to perfection.  

Cynthia eventually returned to Los Angeles but maintained her connection with major brands through collaborations with renowned agencies. Ultimately, she moved back to New York for a time. Recognition of her talent led to a pivotal role at T-Mobile's corporate offices in Washington State, but something was changing. One night, Cynthia was missing her mother’s pupusas and decided to drive to peruse the frozen food aisle. She realized, there were no pupusas—in fact, she had never seen frozen pupusas at the average grocery store. This marked a major change for Cynthia that eventually became permanent with the start of the pandemic. 

“During the pandemic, I was sitting on my couch, and I thought to myself, "Is this really what I want to be doing for the rest of my life?" As a minority and as a woman in corporate environments, it can be a little difficult sometimes. I just started thinking, "Is this really what I want to be doing?" 

A Pandemic Pivot to Pupusas Xinca Foods - Loroco and Cheese Pupusa

As for many, the global pandemic ushered in a moment of profound reckoning. A time to confront the question that had lingered at the edges of her mind: What truly mattered to her? Cynthia remembered the comforting fragrance of her mother's pupusas, the animated conversations that danced around traditional meals, and the palpable sense of belonging. The memories became sources of inspiration, reminders of the profound impact that food, steeped in cultural authenticity, could have on a community. Cynthia wanted to invite the world to join that community.  

“When I would visit LA, my mom would give me all these pupusas to freeze. I thought, what if I were to make that easier and accessible? I was sure there were other people who felt the same way. They would like to have a pupusa, but you can't find a good one out there.” 

During a visit to Fresno, CA, Cynthia shared her idea with family. She asked for brutal honesty, saying, "Tell me if this is the dumbest idea I've ever had, and I will stop pursuing it." With her mother, cousin, aunt, and boyfriend Colin present, they unanimously praised the concept, offering suggestions and family recipes. These recipes now form the heart of Xinca's distinctive frozen products, embodying Cynthia's dedication to preserving and sharing her culinary heritage. It was a homecoming, a return to the flavors, traditions, and community that had forged her.  

Bootstrapping towards Business Success Xinca Foods - Carrot Cheese and Loroco Pupusa

Cynthia's commitment to Xinca Foods mirrors the meticulous planning and the strategic foresight that defined her career as a marketing analyst. As of 2021, she has invested all of her time and a significant portion of her personal savings into the venture. Together with her partner, they are the sole employees, embodying the essence of a grassroots operation. Despite still being in the "bootstrapping" phase, Xinca Foods has made significant strides. They’ve secured contracts with multiple stores, including Seattle’s Metropolitan Market and a recent addition in Texas. There are also a range of collaborations Cynthia is working on in the coming year. But Salvadoran heritage remains the guiding force behind every decision, reinforcing the belief that success extends beyond accolades; it's about safeguarding and celebrating culture.  

“Even the smaller stores in Shoreline, they've been such amazing people to work with. Even in part, the Carnation Farms as well. They've been amazing too and very open with working with all of us. The smaller stores have been amazing and very supportive. So, just being in those stores has been an achievement in itself.”

As a women-owned, minority-owned business, Cynthia sought resources and support tailored to entrepreneurs like her. This quest led her to Business Impact NW, where she gained access to a comprehensive suite of services. Including loans, technical expertise, and business guidance. Her collaboration with the organization marked the crucial initial steps in preparing her loan application and navigating the complexities of scaling her business. With the backing of Business Impact NW, Xinca Foods is poised for a new phase of growth. Resolutely committed to its mission of sharing authentic Salvadoran cuisine with a broader audience. This partnership stands as a testament to the pivotal role organizations like Business Impact NW play in empowering entrepreneurs and fostering positive community impact. 

The Nexty Big Thing Xinca Foods - Bean and Cheese Pupusa

Cynthia notes that Salvadoran cuisine has recently begun popping up on the food map. Unlike industry giants like Goya, Xinca Foods stands out as the only Salvadoran-owned producer. This intimate understanding of their culture, coupled with a meticulous selection of ingredients, sets them apart. Xinca Foods' dedication to authenticity was recognized at Expo West 2023. Where their product was named a Nexty finalist for Best New Frozen Food. This feat is particularly significant considering the competition, which included submissions from corporate powerhouses like Nestle and Mondelez. Despite being a small, bootstrap operation, Xinca Foods has earned its place alongside industry giants. A testament to its unique value in the market. 

“One of our bigger achievements was the Nexty Awards. We got second place, but we were beat by Konscious Foods. They have a lot of funding, $23 million in funding. But after speaking to the Nexty Informa Markets folks, they let me know that we were the smallest and youngest brand to make it to the Nexty finalists for best frozen food product. And we were up against businesses with way more money than us.” 

Out of the Freezer, Into the Fryer 

When asked what she would share with other entrepreneurs entering the frozen food field, Cynthia says financial readiness is crucial. The early years are a tough proving ground, and balance usually comes after the third. Being vigilant for challenges is a constant and having a strong financial base is vital. As she learned in her marketing days, smart decision-making is key especially when it comes to overspending. Startups oftentimes rush into hiring brokers and paying hefty slotting fees for shelf space. Through her work with Business Impact NW, Cynthia learned that when it comes to Consumer-Packaged Goods (CPG), every move must be measured.  

“Being strategic, making sure you have the time, making sure this is exactly what you want to be doing because you can get burnt out. You can get burnt out and you won’t want to do it anymore. Like I always say, you see all the glitz and glamour, but you know, there's a lot of things that happen that can really take a toll on you, right. So, you have to really want it.” Xinca Foods - Cynthia Duran

Griddled with Heart and Heritage

Cynthia Duran's journey from the vibrant streets of South Central LA to the helm of Xinca Foods is a testament to the transformative power of entrepreneurship rooted in cultural pride. Through Xinca Foods, Cynthia doesn't just brings authentic Salvadoran cuisine to a wider audience. She also demonstrates the immense potential that lies within minority-owned businesses. Xinca Foods has put Salvadoran food on the map. Their success demonstrates the importance of staying true to one's roots and leveraging that authenticity to create something extraordinary. In the ever-evolving landscape of entrepreneurship, Cynthia’s story is a testament to the enduring power of cultural pride and the indomitable spirit of Latino entrepreneurs. 

“It can be hard; I can't really have a holiday or a vacation just because the business comes first. You need to always be on, like, making sure that everything is good with your business. You're the boss, but it really is ours. We make connections. We make everything ourselves. Even our merch. Because it’s ours, that makes it all good.” 

About the author

Janelle is a storyteller through and through. She was raised in a family of entrepreneurs who owned and managed a series of small businesses, including a Hawaiian restaurant, a video store, and several real estate properties. Growing up in a low-income community but attending schools as a minority in affluent areas, she struggled with the inequities she faced each day.

Janelle graduated with a degree in Creative Writing, specializing in screenwriting and playwriting. She has worked for a number of nonprofits and has remained steadfast in her commitment to using her craft to support the missions of each organization, and uplift underserved communities throughout the Bay Area.

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