El Milagro factory closes for two weeks after employee dies from coronavirus

The company says production will drop 75%, so it has placed limits on how many tortillas customers can buy at once at its stores.

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A man walks out of Tortilleria El Milagro, 3048 W. 26th St. in Little Village, with a box of 40 packages of tortillas, the most a person could purchase at one time, after it was rumored that one of the company’s factories would be closing for at least two weeks amid fears of the coronavirus pandemic, Monday, April 27, 2020.

A man walks out of Tortilleria El Milagro in Little Village with a box of tortillas Monday.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Midwest tortilla giant El Milagro has shut down one of its factories in Chicago for two weeks after a worker died from the coronavirus earlier this month.

The temporary closure was expected to mean a 75% cut in corn tortilla production, a company spokeswoman said.

In a letter to employees sent over the weekend and obtained by the Sun-Times, the company said it was “deeply saddened to learn about the death of one of our longtime sanitation employees due to complications from COVID-19.”

El Milagro said the deceased worker, who was not named in the letter, had not been at the plant at 2919 S. Western Ave. since April 9 and that two additional employees have since tested positive for the virus while four others are showing symptoms.

The company said it is closing the plant for two weeks so an outside cleaning company can sanitize the facility. All employees scheduled to work at the facility “will be paid (40 hours per week) during this time off,” El Milagro said.

In an email to the Sun-Times, company spokeswoman Anna L. De Leon said: “We have been humbled by an outpouring of support for and concern about the supply of our products during this voluntary shutdown. We expect to be able produce about 25 percent of our corn tortillas and hope to get back to our regular production after our 14-day shutdown.”

People line up outside Tortilleria El Milagro, 3048 W. 26th St. in Little Village, to buy tortillas after it was rumored that one of the company’s factories would be closing for at least two weeks amid fears of the coronavirus pandemic, Monday, April 27, 2020.

People line up outside Tortilleria El Milagro, 3048 W. 26th St. in Little Village, Monday, April 27, 2020.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The shutdown has already had a ripple effect on the tortilla supply chain across the city.

El Milagro informed customers Sunday at its flagship store in Little Village, 3048 W. 26th St., they were only allowed to buy one box of tortillas, which carry 40 packets containing 12 tortillas each. El Milagro then limited customers on Monday to 20 packets each.

Leticia Quintana, 40, said she usually buys a box of tortillas every two weeks, but was surprised about the new limits Monday.

“I buy a box and hand them out to my sons who live nearby. It’s more convenient for us so we don’t have to go to the store all the time,” she said.

Sabino Martinez, owner of Luciano’s, a grocery and liquor store on 18th Street in Pilsen, said he usually buys six boxes of tortillas every day.

But Martinez said he was only allowed to buy one box on Sunday and Monday.

“They told me this is how’s going to be for now,” Martinez said. An attendant at the store told Martinez the new limits were put in place because of the factory shutdown.

Vanessa Dremonas, an executive at Pete’s Fresh Market, a grocery store chain that caters to Latinos across its 16 locations in Chicago and nearby suburbs, said she was informed over the weekend that the company would not receive its typical deliveries from El Milagro.

“We love El Milagro products, and their tortillas are our #1 grocery item,” Dremonas said.“At some of our stores, we can sell up to 100 cases a week.”

Leticia Quintana carries her 20 packets of El Milagro tortillas in Little Village, April 27, 2020.

Leticia Quintana carries her 20 packets of El Milagro tortillas in Little Village, April 27, 2020.

Carlos Ballesteros/Sun-Times

El Milagro has been around for 70 years and has two stores and three restaurants in the Chicago area, as well as one store near Atlanta and another in Austin, Texas. Aside from its tortilla packets, the company sells fried tortilla chips and tortilla dough.

Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member of Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West Side.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated with a statement from El Milagro.

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