Working up to 16 hours a day, six days a week, may seem like a nightmare to most business operators, but to Humberto Raygoza it is the realization of a dream coming true. This fast-rising star in the highly competitive Southern California world of making chorizo is rapidly announcing his presence and his products to a growing audience.
Known as The Chori-Man, the Antelope Valley native, now 35, opened a shop last July in San Pedro under The Chori-Man shingle. But he’s actually been associated with the product since the age of five.
“My family was from the Zacatecas area of Southern Mexico and my father’s side had all been butchers for generations,” he explains. “My mother’s side of the family worked in poultry. They made a unique type of chorizo there and every summer I would go there and help in some way; cleaning chilies, mixing spices or doing whatever was needed. They had been doing it for generations and I helped out for about a month each summer. Back home in Antelope Valley, my father would make chorizo in our kitchen and the whole family would get involved making it and linking it for my father’s local customers.
“I was going to UCLA and was studying nursing and grew tired of being a broke student. It was then that I decided to earn some extra money by making chorizo in my apartment. I worked as a line cook and sold everything I had and called my father for the family chorizo recipe. I began making about 50 lbs. every three months and sold it door to door. I had a small cart and two 25-lb. coolers.
“I told my customers about my family’s tradition and that I’m a fourth-generation chorizo maker, bringing my family’s traditional recipes from Mexico to the streets of LA.”
Raygoza says he hand-made his chorizo in the morning using a labor-intensive process but true to his ancestral roots. When he returned from work he spent the evenings peddling his meats from house to house.
“When I told my father I had quit school and wanted to make and sell chorizo, he told me he thought I was crazy and that it was unlikely to work,” he recalls.
At times when all his product didn’t sell, he would give it to restaurants and local breweries to try. “They loved it,” Raygoza says. “They even gave me space in their restaurants to make my chorizo and carried it on their menus. They enjoyed the products so much that I essentially traded some of my labor and spices for a place to make it.”
Raygoza opened his first brick-and-mortar shop in San Pedro, a tight-knit community that’s part of the city of Los Angeles.
The shop has about 800 sq. ft. of kitchen space with a walk-up service counter. He features his cooked chorizo sandwiches (choripan), burritos and tacos, and sells his chorizo by the pound. When customers wanted his salsas, spices and flavorings as condiments, he began selling them as well.
The shop is open only four days a week, with plans to expand in the future as growth permits.
His chorizo (six varieties) is artisan all the way. He reminds himself that in Mexico most folks grew their own varieties of spices and that each version had different characteristics. He put that puzzle together to come up with something that stood out on the palate.
“I loved the response I got at the markets, breweries and restaurants for my products and was inspired to add to my traditional Zacatecano red chorizo,” he says. “I came up with our original family recipe for Tolucan chorizo, which is a green colored sausage made with poblano and coriander. I had the red and green chorizo and they both were huge hits. Everybody seemed to want them and now I’m making over 500 lbs. of these a week.”
Some of the top Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles seek out his meats and he is working on a deal with a co-packer, Marisa Foods in Long Beach, to make his product to his specifications under the US Dept. of Agriculture’s inspection program. This, he hopes, will expand distribution capability throughout the Southern California market.
About a year ago Raygoza added a business partner, Mandy Barton. “I was doing all the work and the promotion by myself. She came on board and not only helped make product, but assisted with deliveries, serving customers and promoting the business on social media. It seems we landed on Instagram and the internet with a bang. I knew nothing about that, but she made it happen, bringing something to the business that we never had before. The publicity we’ve gotten has been overwhelming.”
One cannot talk to Raygoza without getting captured by his excitement and his humility.
When asked about his plans for the future, he explains that being able to make and get products to those eateries that supported him in the early days is the main goal. His shop has some outside seating and his production area now includes a grinder and a 50-lb. stuffer. Besides chorizo, he offers soups, smoked pork and brisket fare.
Indeed, things are popping so fast at The Chori-Man that when he bought a smoker, he found he needed another one just two weeks later. The shop buys its breads and shells, but he’s thinking ahead to the time when the shop might make its own baked items.
“We’ve begun expanding on some of the family recipes and are now making Argentine, Sonoran and Portuguese chorizos,” Raygoza says. “It all goes back to working on new things and serving our customers with consistency and a strong work ethic.”
He even came up with a popular soyrizo version for customers who disdain meat.
“You know, working that kind of schedule for four years might be draining to some people. But for me it is seeing my crazy project come to life. I don’t feel tired. I look forward to every upcoming food event or festival in our area. It’s just a matter of staying dedicated to a strong work ethic and every day seeing something I thought might never happen come a step closer to reality.
“Sure, there are much bigger companies, but there is plenty of room to operate between them. We just have to remain consistent,” he says.
“What I said earlier about consistency has to do with earning people’s trust,” Raygoza concludes. “Sure, the product is great, but it is what you are committed to putting into it that makes it all better.”