It’s not a good time to be a corn-dependent company. In 1986, Dallas Tortilla and Tamale Factory president Ruben Leal could fill up his corn silo for $2,100, “and I thought that was a lot of money,” he says. Now it costs Leal $7,900, and the major reason isn’t inflation but ethanol. Corn as an energy source has driven up prices, and since it’s the small company’s mainstay, “What do you do?” the Oak Cliff resident asks. “You gotta buy it.” His family’s business is one of roughly seven tortilla and tamale companies in Dallas, and each one is feeling the pinch, Leal says. The good news is that his has been around since 1950, when “my mom and dad had a big dream and no money, but a desire to succeed.” His mother still spends three or four days a week at the shop on Marsalis and Eighth, hand-making the Mexican barbecue tamales from Leal’s grandmother’s recipe. One of six locations in the city, the Oak Cliff shop has been open for 25 years, long enough to see three generations work there — sometimes simultaneously. If you pop in at the right time, you just might find Leal, his mother and one of his three children working side by side to continue a family legacy. —KERI MITCHELL
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