Ms. Carmen Montalvan
Carmen Montalvan was born in Havana, Cuba and at the age of 10 immigrated to the U.S. where she became a proud citizen in 1988. After graduating from Rosemead High School, she attended Pasadena City College with the intention of becoming a dental technician; however, after only 3 semesters family matters forced her to leave school. Carmen then went to work as a teller at the Bank of America in Azusa, CA where she pursued an 18-year career, eventually becoming a vault teller. While at Bank of America she met and married Marcos Montalvan, another Cuban-born American. Together they had two daughters, both of whom currently work in the family business.
While Carmen was working at Bank of America, Marcos owned a series of small grocery stores in the Ontario community specializing in Latin-American products and produce. One store, the Fiesta Market, was an especially fortunate place for the Montalvans. One day a Tongan gentleman came into the store and noticed the frozen Cassava. He told Marcos that Cassava was Tongan food. Initially, Marcos disagreed, but he eventually gave in and acknowledged Cassava as Tongan food. All the Cassava was sold in 45 minutes when word got around that Fiesta Market sold Tongan food. When Marcos discussed this with Carmen, they decided that they needed to investigate the Pacific Island community in the Inland Empire. They were struck with the similarities between the Pacific Islanders’ foods and those of their native Cuba. Carmen realized how much she and the family enjoyed eating Cuban foods, and felt that the Pacific Islanders probably had trouble finding products they cherished. So the idea for the business began. Carmen and Marcos researched the Pacific Island culture, and asked their customers what kinds of foods they liked and wanted.
The Montalvans traveled to Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and New Zealand and found where the foods were grown, who sold them, and became enchanted with the area, even learning to speak basic Tongan. They started importing the desired products for their Fiesta Market customers, warehousing and packaging them in their garage. The business grew so rapidly that within 6 months they had to rent a small warehouse in Ontario, and Carmen had to leave her job at the BofA to devote her full energies to the new business.
Devoted to the idea that she could meet the needs of people yearning for a taste of home, Carmen adopted that for the company motto – “Bringing You the Taste of Home”. The business grew rapidly, as did Carmen’s involvement with the Pacific Islanders. The Company moved to larger quarters several times, until finally acquiring their present day location in 1996. Carmen states that this last move would not have been possible without the support of the Ontario Redevelopment Agency, who believed the company would be a valuable community asset and bring jobs to the community which, indeed, it has.
The Latin Business Association is grateful for the participation of Montalvan’s Sales, Inc., and extremely proud to have Ms. Carmen Montalvan as an expert panelist for the 5th Annual LBA Minority Women’s Business Conference Retail & Banking Industries Panel.