Three-generation family Filipino food business still going strong

Food is always a top priority for Susie Quesada. In her early childhood, she sampled various flavors of exotic Filipino ice cream, as well as her homemade breakfast sausage, lumpia, for her family’s business.

Her grandmother, Maria Quesada, is from the Philippines and opened her first store in Mountain View, Orientex, in 1969 to sell imported handicrafts. Added Filipino ice cream. Magnolia label lychee. The family-owned company has become America’s leading innovator of tropical ice cream and milk bars produced in Oakland and Pittsburgh.

It was just ice cream. Later named Ramar Foods, the business grew in honor of their grandparents Ramon and Maria, adding a variety of Filipino frozen foods such as barbecue meats, lumpia, steamed buns, dumplings, and eventually became the Bay Area leader in manufacturing. Filipino frozen foods distributed nationally and internationally.

Quesada always worked in the family business, but when it came to settling into a career, the Walnut Creek resident looked elsewhere.

“I always loved working with children,” Quesada said, noting that she enjoyed coaching youth soccer. I thought I would love it, so I tried to qualify for a teaching job.”

But there was that unforgettable family dinner. Her father, Primo Quesada, asked, “How do you want to work in the family business? What if something happens to me?” .

Quesada never returned, but found a way to incorporate her teaching skills into a new career in the family business.

“Most of the skills I developed were listening and curiosity and culture building,” she said.

Quesada sat down with the news outlet to discuss Pittsburgh businesses that currently employ 250 to 300 workers. Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: How did Ramar Foods get started?
A. My grandmother (the late María Quesada) was a serial entrepreneur. She started many businesses in her lifetime. So she started this when they came here from the Philippines in the late 1960s, she had 11 children of hers. In the Philippines, when you have this many children, you have to find a job for them. So she just started a business and each business was run by her children.

She started selling Filipino handicrafts at a flea market in San Jose. And people started asking for jewelry, furniture, things like that, and some foods that are the basis of the Filipino diet. Because the Filipino community was growing here. She would import the products and her father and his brothers and sisters would unload and sell the containers.

My grandmother was a visionary, so she came up with an idea and had someone do it. So it was either her husband or her kids, and in this case it was my uncle and one of my dad’s girlfriends who ran it (Ramar Foods).

Q: What challenges did you face?

A. My father tried to import food from the Philippines, but there are many rules about what can and cannot be imported. Meat cannot be imported. Dairy products cannot be imported. So he decided to start making it, and started making ice cream first, then sausage and fried eggs. And he was just the visionary who brought this import business into manufacturing.

At first, my mother, aunt, and uncle made it for me and came to eat various flavors. In time, he had someone else cook these products for him. He searched for manufacturers until he had enough critical mass to invest in his own equipment.

Q. Were you involved with the company early on?

A. My father had a warehouse in Oakland. That facility had a small room and he had an ice cream machine that he used to start making ice cream I worked in the business when he was 8 years old. I put all the labels on the ice cream. I got a cent for every thing I did.

Q. How did you then transition from teaching to running the family business?

A. My father said it takes two years to fall in love. I started working in accounts receivable and then in inventory. I explored each department, learned different parts of the business, and began to understand how it all connected. , all these families working for the business they depend on, this is their livelihood. I realized there wasn’t.

Q. What has helped you as a woman running an international business?

A. I was really lucky when I first took over. I have had access to some really great business organizations. One is the Women’s Presidential Organization. A global organization that supports women’s businesses. Through it, I have a local chapter that meets monthly and discusses things that can help grow our business. I completed it in 2018 for her. It was very eye-opening. That was my business school. I’ve met great people in other industries. They also helped me with a strategy for what we wanted to do next as a company. I really rely on these business groups. I hope it helped move our plans forward.

Q. What legacy did your family leave behind this company?

A. My grandmother’s vision was to support a growing Filipino community and give our children a future. I wanted to support the Filipino community again after seeing how interested they were in these products that could not be imported. And I think that’s our legacy, to continue to support our community, our employees, and anyone interested in food of all kinds.

Q. What brand names of food products are recognizable to Bay Area customers and where do they buy them?

A. Our most famous brand is the Magnolia brand, which includes ice cream, meats (sausages and cured meats) and some of our lumpias. They are available in all Asian supermarkets and can be found in other regions depending on location.

Q. What’s your new favorite food?

A. We launched boba ice cream two years ago and then had to relaunch it in 2021 due to a global shortage. We now have a stable supply. It is one of the products that many people know, especially among the younger generation. It was just a way to bring our same taste to a new generation. And this year, new flavors of Ube and Cookies & Cream will be released.

Q. What makes your company special?

A. What makes our company really special is that we care about people the same way my grandmother and my father had. We take our business very seriously and we believe that we have a great product thanks to our people.

Q. How did Ramar Foods survive the pandemic and what does the future look like?

A. I am very excited that the supply chain has been unraveled after the pandemic. During the pandemic, it was very difficult not only to get raw materials, but even to keep up with demand. Many restaurant customers closed. We tried to help them with technology…and put them on a (food) delivery service.

Susie Quesada

position: Lamar Foods International President

education: Executive Education Programs at UC Berkeley, St. Mary’s College and Harvard Business School

Previous work experience: San Lorenzo Middle School Teacher

Residence: Walnut Creek

5 things to know about Susie (fun facts):

1. I love the outdoors and hike 2 miles a day.

2. I love to cook and eat, including leftovers.

3. Her favorite food is a Filipino dish called kare-kare, a peanut butter-based oxtail stew.

4. I love soccer. She plays both women’s and co-ed soccer indoors and outdoors.

5. Practice yoga.

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