With A Journalism Degree From Florida And A Career In Water Sports,

How In The World Did I Become La Jefa Of Tres Picosos

I was a transplant to Colorado, where my husband, Shultz, and my father-in-law, Gus, had been running a food manufacturing facility for years. They were making seafood salads, sushi, green salads, rice bowls, and other niche foods for a variety of customers. Shultz also ran Brand Management, a brokerage and consulting company to the convenience industry, and had many friends and colleagues in the business. With three small children at home, I only came in periodically to help with creative marketing and PR. Then Shultz’s biggest client internalized its sales team in 2004, so he took a full-time position with them. I stepped up and added a bit of bookkeeping, HR, and operations management to my resume.

One of our favorite retailers visited us one day with a foil-wrapped, barely labeled burrito. He loved the flavors and the authenticity, but the food producer didn’t operate a USDA-inspected plant. That means the company was severely limited in the amount of meat it could include products. (I’m still fanatical about producers who break this USDA rule.) He wasn’t willing to risk his customers’ foodservice safety, and he asked if we could make an authentic homestyle Mexican burrito at our plant.

"Si, Se Puede!" I'd Learned Spanish Growing Up In Florida, So I Was All Geeked Up"

Our production manager from Mexico came up with the design for Tres Picos for three spicy Peppers and immediately we loved it. I don’t think we considered any other names. We launched with a logo and a label, and I did our marketing communications, sombrero wearing, and Spanglish speaking. We kicked things up a notch when the wonderful Philosophy Communication of Denver started managing our creative graphic design, and they haven’t stopped ever since! So Tres Picos was born in 2005 as a daily delivered, hot, foil-wrapped burrito.


So Tres Picos was born in 2005...

…as a daily delivered, hot, foil-wrapped burrito. Breakfast flavors rocked from the start, and we were serving about 125 convenience stores and coffee shops along the Front Range. (For you Yankees and Southerners, that means a lot of miles up and down the Eastern side of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.) My mother Liz (former grade school principal, everything in order) even joined us to help keep track of customers, and she was really popular as “la abuelita.” The daily delivery, hot product, invoice reconciling, and so many miles and more customers and increasing gas prices took their toll. ¡Dios Mio! We had to use resources more wisely, and in 2008 we eliminated daily delivery and went to weekly deliveries. My own workweek was expanding exponentially as burrito sales grew, and remember, I have these three niños a casa.

In the production room, I only was allowed to label or box burritos. (Still true today.) We’ve always had a Mexican head chef. Though never verbalized in neither English nor Spanish, empleados thought the jefa (boss lady) was too despacio (slow) to do the real work of scooping fillings and rolling tortillas. It was unquestionable that I’d attempt to griddle eggs or make a batch of hot green chile. It’s best to leave that to the professionals.

Meanwhile, I was thinking about the literal translation of “Tres Picos,” which is “three peaks” like a mountaintop or “three beaks” like a bird. The spicy Mexican tomato and onion salsa is called “Pico de Gallo” which literally means “beak of the rooster.” You know how phrases and idioms morph over time: “pico” had come to mean “spicy” or “hot” in the Spanish language of Mexico. I wanted to modify our name to “Tres Picosos” for a more literal translation and personification of our logo: “Three Hotties.” Plus, I could obtain a trademark for that name.

On my way to the plant one morning, I was behind a cute bright blue pickup driven by a pretty Hispanic woman.

Her Vanity License Plate Said "Picosa," Essentially A Self-Proclaimed "Hottie"

My decision was made, but in the spirit of democracy, I put it up for a vote, and the empleados backed “Tres Picosos.” We added a couple of letters to our logo in 2008, and here we are.

In 2009 Tres Picosos participated in Core-Mark’s annual Grab Heat ‘N Eat program and gained national distribution to all their warehouses. McLane Company also began more widespread distribution of Tres Picosos at the same time. My sombrero-wearing and musica-latina-playing at trade shows was paying off. Maverik stores out of Salt Lake City was a tremendous retail customer who really knows foodservice well. At “adventure’s first stop,” the corporate chef got Maverik’s bakery managers behind the hot foil-wrapped burrito program. Now they make their own burritos at store level! I applaud their achievements in foodservice even though it meant adios for Los Tres Picosos.

We continued to grow Tres Picosos by gaining distributor relationships, and in January 2011, we discontinued local deliveries altogether. Instead, we’d pack up and ship cases to distributors who could do the work of getting product to retailers a lot better than we could. We had outgrown our production abilities – my father-in-law was aging, and Shultz joined Quiznos full time to sell franchises to the non-traditional (convenience) marketplace. Thus I entered into my first relationship with a contract manufacturer, and I learned a lot. I’ve always been good with a euphemism.

"It’s business. But it’s really fun!"

In a short amount of time, I decided I only wanted to produce Tres Picosos and forego the other product lines. (Actually, the sushi line is my sentimental favorite, and I still cater sushi parties. It’s just like rolling burritos.) So I purchased the Tres Picosos brand from my family’s company in 2011 and formed Tres Picosos LLC with outsourced manufacturing. I’ve only recently applied for Women-Owned-Business status, so that should open up more opportunities with companies looking for vendors with that designation!

McLane Company came on board nationally in 2011 to serve our friends at Flying J and Pilot Travel Centers. In late 2012 we had two more changes: my dear father-in-law Gus passed away, and Shultz furthered his career by joining Einstein Noah Bagel to develop franchises in non-traditional channels. In January 2013, Tres Picosos began a distribution arrangement with DOT Foods, which is even better able to serve distributor customers on a national level.

I’d always had the idea to make the great ingredients from our burritos available to foodservice operators who want to use the components in their own menu items. But one of our sayings around the office is, “WE HAVE WAY MORE IDEAS THAN WE COULD POSSIBLY EXECUTE!” So it had to remain an idea until Shultz was ready and available in 2015. We incorporated Naughty Chile Taqueria as a licensed concept for retailers to operate a made-to-order taco and burrito bar in their locations. With Shultz’s franchise sales experience in the non-traditional channel, and my experience with the production and sales of Mexican burritos, we were on a roll (pun intended.)

When presented with the first concept for the logo, I noticed the two intertwined peppers were vertical. I thought if they’re so “naughty,” they ought to be lying down! And since the Naughty Chile Taqueria logo doesn’t have a sombrero in it, I did my first trade show without wearing mine. I hated every minute of it, so that was the one and only time you’ll see me without it.

Today Naughty Chile Taqueria has close to 50 retail locations, and many other locations use our “Quickie Burrito Mixes” to make burritos commissary style on site.

In 2018 I decided that I needed more space in my home office, so I redecorated the no man’s land of our “FROG,” which in real estate lingo means “Family Room Over Garage.” My mother recommended a tranquil blue and aqua décor to offset the crazy and harried schedule of most workdays, but I thought a bright and sunny yellow would be more appropriate, paired with a leopard print carpet!

With the amount of sales calls increasing, in 2019, we partnered with a food brokerage firm for sales representation nationally. Advantage Solutions is a valued partner, plus, it’s fun to work with them. Mexican food makes everyone happy, but I’m still the only one to wear the sombrero.

In the 2020 quarantine era of COVID, we hunkered down at our home office(s) and enjoyed not traveling to trade shows. Instead, we increased print and online advertising in our market, and we love how it’s working. One huge bright spot: Travel Centers of America rolled out Tres Picosos burritos to their truck stops nationwide via Core-Mark!

Now, instead of all these youngsters at home, I have teenagers in college and high school. They help out with shipping samples, picking up supplies, and even some accounting and administrative duties. I have strong opinions regarding their choice of college major: “For my business, I need a food scientist, so someone has to major in microbiology; I need a chief financial officer, so someone has to major in finance; every company needs a good contract attorney, so someone has to major in business and get an advanced law degree. Work it out amongst yourselves.” It hasn’t worked so far – one more to go.

I realize this might make it all sound easy, and it’s not. It’s business. But it’s really fun. If you see a smiling middle-aged gringa lady in a sombrero in an airport, it’s probably me. Please introduce yourself and say “hola.”


Food Focus – Mexican – Hot! Hot! Hot!

Food Focus – Mexican – Hot! Hot! Hot!

Mexican has surpassed pizza as the second-most-prevalent foodservice category, behind only hamburgers, according to data from Technomic cited by Jane Hartgrove, president of Tres Picosos, which supplies burritos to convenience stores and foodservice outlets....

Tres Picosos Designs New Packaging

Tres Picosos Designs New Packaging

Tres Picosos, which translates to mean “Three Hotties,” is an authentic Mexican burrito company owned by president Jane Hartgrove. In this interview, we talk with Hartgrove about the company’s new packaging for its handmade, rolled and wrapped burritos and current...

Flexible Packaging podcast: A National Burrito Company’s New Packaging

Flexible Packaging podcast: A National Burrito Company’s New Packaging

This episode is an interview with Jane Hartgrove, owner of the authentic Mexican burrito company called Tres Picosos, which translates to “Three Hotties”. In this interview, we learn more about Tres Picosos, the new packaging for its hand-wrapped burritos, and design...