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CALIFORNIA | LEARNING CURVE / KAREN E. KLEIN

A Second Helping of Success

Ex-Retiree Joins Sons in New Food Venture

May 13, 1997|KAREN E. KLEIN

In 1981, when he was 46, Herman Jacobs decided to retire. He sold two family businesses that had become synonymous with the low-cholesterol, healthful food movement: Hain Pure Food Co. and Hollywood Foods, the pioneer distributor of safflower oil products. Jacobs' younger brother had just died of brain cancer, and that tragedy caused Jacobs to have a change of heart about what was truly important in life. Then, in 1994, after more than a decade of gardening, raising kids and koi fish, traveling and working with nonprofit agencies, Jacobs decided he needed a new challenge.

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After I retired, I started slowly feeling like atrophy was setting in on my brain cells. Eventually I decided I wanted a challenge, and I thought one of the greatest gifts I could give my sons would be buying a small business and working with them to give them the benefit of my experience and my creativity.

So I bought Tumaro's, which was already producing and selling frozen Mexican food. When we took over, we completely redid the packaging and the food, so it would be healthful and low in fat and cholesterol. We are the first Mexican-food company to get an endorsement, on our burritos, from the American Heart Assn.

My dream was always to be able to create an innovation, something unique and different. So six months after buying the company, I started taking a close look at the tortillas we were buying because I didn't like the taste.

Then a lightbulb went off, and I started thinking--what about creating a flavored tortilla! Look what Wolfgang Puck did with designer pizzas and what has happened with flavored bagels. The tortilla has been devoid of innovation for years--corn, flour and that was it!

So we started coming up with formulas to create a flavored tortilla. Over two years, we probably made every mistake possible. But in the end we created a line of 11 flavored tortillas in four sizes. We have jalapeno-cilantro, pesto-garlic, spinach-herb, honey-apple-cinnamon and a lot of others, all of which are low-fat with organic ingredients and no lard.

They have been overwhelmingly embraced, and the best part is that it was a team effort for my sons, my associates and myself. We all played vital parts.

It was a real challenge, psychologically and physiologically, coming back from retirement. I realized that my temperament had changed. I was shorter of temper. I had come from a business that made $44 million and employed 200 people to a business with 10 employees.

There were physiological changes also. I had to redevelop my stamina. For the first year, working eight hours felt like a long day to me. But the excitement of innovation and creating something has been so exciting that I feel more vital and energized than ever. I'll never retire again.

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AT A GLANCE

Company: Tumaro's Inc.

Owners: Herman, Brian, Jason and Lis Jacobs

Nature of business: Produces, sells ad distributes frozen Mexican entrees and flavored tortillas.

Location: 5300 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 311, Los Angeles

Founded: 1994

Employees: 20

Annual revenue: $2.6 million

MORE SMALL-BUSINESS NEWS: D9

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