If you’re a lover of Mexican food, you may be surprised to know that for over 25 years the Gold Coast has been home to Queensland’s only Australian owned manufacturer of corn and flour tortillas, Diego’s Authentic Foods.
Established in 1995 by Deann and Colin Thomson, this family-owned business began in Miami, later moving into an industrial area of Burleigh that’s home to many top food businesses.
Like many businesses, Diego’s began as a love story, Californian Deann falling in love with Aussie Colin and migrating here to be with him. However, coming to Australia was not without its costs.
“I was missing the food I grew up with,” Deann tells us. “My sister and I grew up as kids spending half our time in Rosita Beach. We spent holidays at our beach house on the cliffs in Baja California eating fresh tamales, lobster, carne asada and carnita tacos and burritos.”
Deann clung onto those idyllic childhood memories after her move to Australia. The gaping tortilla-shaped hole in her life formed a space from which her passion formed.
“So, here I was in 1990 Geelong and no Mexican food that I was used to or even corn tortillas that I had grown up with,” she says.
“During my first year in Australia, my mom actually brought me a ball of fresh masa dough wrapped in a wet tea towel and foil in a cooler bag on the plane so we could make fresh white corn tortillas!” she relates, laughing at their naivety. Of course, Australian Customs were not as enamoured with the scheme. There had to be a better way!
A move to the Gold Coast and Deann’s passion grew. With Colin often away as a FIFO engineer, Deann decided to start a business of her own to occupy her time as she raised her family. Naming her business after her hometown of San Diego, she garnished advice and support from her food broker father and her engineer husband as she established the first and only Queensland tortilla manufacturing business.
“Inspiring people to cook from home and using our products to make their own Mexican recipes at home and experience the tastes and flavours I grew up with is one of my joys in life,” Deann says.
Starting by making corn tortillas one at a time, along with corn chips and salsas, Deann’s plan was to approach Mexican restaurants and introduce her products. Marketing and placement, she found, was not quite that simple. However, success did come her way. In 1996 Diego’s first gluten-free corn tortillas were placed in Woolworths.
Mexican food is a favourite in our house for its ability to cater for food intolerance. Having a sister-in-law who is a coeliac (and at a time when Australia did not cater well for coeliac diners), also provided a reason for Deann to make authentic tortillas.
Focussing on nutrition, flavour and quality as well as specific dietary requirements, Diego’s products are vegan friendly with no eggs, dairy or nuts. Diego’s range has extended from its original gluten-free white corn tortillas to include yellow corn tortillas, flour tortillas and a range of wraps (including low carb and gluten free wraps) and chapatis.
The last 25 years have been a roller-coaster ride fraught with the difficulties of gaining traction in a market dominated by cheaper overseas products. But, driven by Deann’s passion and persistence, Diego’s home-grown product forms the basis of a thriving business employing the extended Thomson family and dedicated long term staff, exporting their products to the Middle East and Asia.
“We also want to give back to our local community,” Deann tells us, adding that they are committed sponsors of MNM Board Riders and Supporting GC Basketball with donations of tortillas and their famous white corn tortilla chips.
Chances are that you have probably eaten Diego’s products many times at your favourite Mexican restaurants without knowing it.
However, you can also make a more deliberate choice to support local. Next time you want to eat Mexican at home, pick up some Diego’s or GoMex products at your independent grocer and check out Deann’s website recipes for inspiration. By doing so, you will be cooking with local products and supporting local families.
From the longing for the tastes of childhood to a thriving local business, it is still the love and passion behind Diego’s that makes it stand apart from the pack.
Diego’s Authentic Foods, 1/7 Hutchinson St, Burleigh Heads
Open: Mon – Fri 9AM -4pm Ph: 07 5593 5233