TIBURON, CA — Food can be a family affair, a uniting force that honors tradition and fuels generation after generation. Whether from familiar flavors and ingredients or recipes passed down over time rendering nostalgia, the tie between family and food rings especially true in baking. That familiarity is something Hector Saldivar, founder and CEO of Tiburon, CA-based Tia Lupita Foods, knows all too well.

In Mexican culture, tia, which directly translates to aunt, is often used as a term of endearment for female friends, parents or loved ones, all of which fit the case for the company’s namesake. As a result, Tia Lupita affectionately gets its name from Saldivar’s mother.

“It’s my way of saying that although Tia Lupita is my mom, she’s your aunt,” Saldivar explained. “It’s a way of welcoming [someone] into the family.”

Since officially launching in 2018, Tia Lupita’s portfolio has grown beyond salsa to include grain-free tortillas and tortilla chips. However, the brand’s story began in 2005 when Saldivar, born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico, moved to California and began his search for an authentic hot sauce.


“When I moved here, most of the hot sauces in the United States were vinegar-based and runny,” Saldivar recalled. “For the most part, their number one ingredient was water or vinegar. I was taken aback a little because with my mom’s hot sauce, our number one ingredient is actually the pepper: red or green jalapeno, chipotle, habanero, whatever it is that we’re using.”

That self-fulfilling mission continued with Saldivar’s need for a tortilla that tasted like home but met his health needs.

“I love tacos, but I’m always on a diet,” he shared. “Tacos and diet should never be in the same sentence, but in Mexico, we figured out that by mixing nopales [cactus] with corn masa, we’re able to add fiber to the tortilla, hence reducing the net carb content and calories.”

A regular tortilla has a higher calorie and carb count than one made with nopales, and the cactus-based variety — which benefits from the plant’s characteristics of being a low glycemic superfood high in antioxidants — appeals to health-conscious consumers.

“I only invest in businesses that have the potential to be the ‘crunch’ in the market, and Tia Lupita Foods has the right recipe for success — a crispy investment that satisfies both taste buds and portfolios.” — Kevin O’Leary | investor


“It’s almost a three-to-one ratio; you could eat three cactus tortillas versus one regular tortilla,” Saldivar noted.

Because Saldivar didn’t have easy access to tortillas that met his nutritional needs, he would buy cactus tortillas during his trips to Mexico and bring them back to California. With innovation lacking from what was in the market at the time, this drove the creation of Tia Lupita Foods.

“They were not available in the US market, and so when I started Tia Lupita, I figured out that I could pivot the company from being a hot sauce brand into a food brand,” Saldivar said.

On the financial side, Saldivar self-funded the company for the first couple of years. It has since undergone several rounds of fundraising, including a seed funding round in October 2023 that brought in $2.6 million. The funds will support Tia Lupita’s expansion into retailers across the US and rising demand for better-for-you Hispanic products.


Saldivar’s company was also named as a finalist in the Juntos Crecemos (Together We Grow) cohort of PepsiCo’s Greenhouse Accelerator Program in July 2023, a six-month mentorship opportunity that provided 10 early-stage, Hispanic-owned businesses with a $20,000 grant.

Yet, one of the biggest turning points for the young brand came when Saldivar received the call to pitch Tia Lupita to the investors on ABC’s Shark Tank in early 2023. The process took a year, with Saldivar waiting on standby while continuously updating the show’s producers on the company’s status.

“Finally getting the call to go to LA and film was all surreal, and striking a deal with Kevin O’Leary — the one and only ‘Mr. Wonderful’ — was pretty neat,” Saldivar recalled.

The entrepreneur walked out with not only a deal but a new national audience.

“I only invest in businesses that have the potential to be the ‘crunch’ in the market, and Tia Lupita Foods has the right recipe for success — a crispy investment that satisfies both taste buds and portfolios,” O’Leary said about what stood out about Tia Lupita Foods that made him invest.

This story has been adapted from the February | Q1 2024 issue of Commercial Baking. Read the full story in the digital edition here.