Growing up, Martha Diaz spent plenty of time outdoors. After immigrating from Central Mexico to California with her family when she was 10, Diaz recalls family vacations spent at campsites and on long bike rides. In college, Diaz reached her goal of becoming an experienced backpacker–but in exploring the freeze-dried, ready-to-eat meals that backpackers take on their journeys, she was disheartened by the lack of Latin-inspired options. “When you’re doing something like backpacking, it has a pain point,” says Diaz. “To then have to eat food that you don’t otherwise eat is a double whammy of discomfort.” To Diaz, this absence of authentic Latin meals was indicative of a deeper need to make outdoor hobbies more diverse and accessible to communities of color. She knew she could change that.
Heritage and Innovation
With the twin goals of bringing her favorite Mexican dishes along with her on the trail and making the outdoors a more inclusive space for Hispanic communities that have not traditionally been represented by outdoor recreation brands, she founded Itacate Foods in 2021 after quitting her corporate job in product development.
Inspired by the indigenous Nahuatl term meaning “food for a journey”, itacate is also a phrase used commonly in Central Mexico today to describe the bundle of leftovers you may be sent home with after a family gathering. With this ethos, Itacate offers freeze-dried packages of traditional Latin dishes–like chilaquiles and sopa de lentejas–which hikers need only combine with boiling water to enjoy.
Bringing together deep culinary heritage, functionality, and the promise of adventure, Itacate Foods gained traction quickly. “When I started making Itacate, my thought was, ‘I’ll just squirrel away at it and see how it does’,” explains Diaz. But demand quickly outpaced her ability to supply the handmade and individually freeze-dried packages, and she began eyeing a larger freeze-drying machine. “I needed to increase my capacity, but I didn’t have the funding for it.”
A Need For Non-Traditional Lending
Diaz began to explore business loans, but because Itacate Foods was still considered a start-up, she had trouble making headway with banks.
After working with an advisor from the Small Business Administration (SBA) to analyze her financials and understand the size of the loan she would need, Diaz was eventually referred to California Capital FDC.
As a mission-based lender, the California Capital Lending Center was able to consider factors beyond those of traditional banks. Working with the California Capital team to complete her application, Diaz eventually received a loan to finance an industrial scale free-drying machine and working capital.
“It was intimidating,” says Diaz, explaining that because Itacate’s business credit was not established, the application process was more thorough than she had expected. “But it was so nice for my first time getting a business loan to do it through California Capital, because they’re so supportive and really educated me through the process.”
Growth for Impact
With this boost to her capacity and efficiency, Diaz has increased her production by ten times, reduced her operation cost, and taken on new wholesale accounts.
“I would love for Itacate to be a household name within the category,” she says of her future goals. Moving forward, she also hopes to move her production from a rented commercial kitchen to her own space, and to lead by example as a person of color in the outdoor entrepreneurship space.
As part of outdoor recreation retailer REI’s Path Ahead Ventures program, Martha connected with other diverse up-and-coming brands, and solidified her mission of giving back to organizations that promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the outdoors. “Increasing representation is the reason for Itacate,” she says. “So the bigger we grow, the bigger the impact we can have.”