Irlanda Montes of Chicas Chips: “Persistence and Perseverance”

Persistence and Perseverance– Every day can present a new challenge and an opportunity. It’s how you handle it that really matters. When we first started Chicas Chips, hustle was the name of the game. Whether it was traveling from store to store for demo events or late nights spent working through our business plan, we […]

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Persistence and Perseverance– Every day can present a new challenge and an opportunity. It’s how you handle it that really matters. When we first started Chicas Chips, hustle was the name of the game. Whether it was traveling from store to store for demo events or late nights spent working through our business plan, we kept our eye on the prize. I’m proud that this hustle still continues today, and it’s what motivates me and the team to achieve our goals and dreams.

As a part of our series about 5 Things You Need To Run A Highly Successful Family Business, I had the pleasure of interviewing Irlanda Montes.

Irlanda is founder and president of Chicas Chips; a brand of homestyle and authentic tortilla chips and salsas. As founder, she spent the last 10 years creating and building a new brand of tortilla chips that is experiencing great success in an already saturated market. In the early days of the company, she oversaw all the operations and growth. Today, the Chicas Chips brand is part of the Benestar Brands family. As president, Irlanda continues to be a key player making strategic business decisions, driving new product development and leading sales.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

During the 2008 recession, and after long careers as self-employed graphic designers, my husband Ray and I wanted to explore a new opportunity to ensure our future and retirement savings. We started several businesses without success. With limited capital and a low credit score due to losing an income property during the subprime mortgage crisis, I ventured to the Pacific Palisades Farmers Market in Los Angeles to sell my late mother’s amazing fresh salsa. I soon learned that a spoonful of salsa without a chip doesn’t deliver the full impact of your product. And because I wasn’t happy with any of the tortilla chips on the market, I decided to make my own. To my surprise, people loved my chips and wanted more.

As an entrepreneur craving a new business venture, I immediately started making small batches of chips in my kitchen at 5 a.m. before heading to the farmers market. Soon my chips became a popular favorite. Little did I know that a few years later, Chicas Chips would be the highest selling tortilla chip in key West Coast supermarkets. I am really grateful that my husband and I took a risk and were willing to follow our passion.

Can you tell us a bit about your family business and your role in it?

Chicas Chips is all about family, from the name to the operations of the company. In the beginning of this journey, my sisters and brother helped me with production. We are all from Ecuador and instead of calling each other by name, we all call each other “Chica” — except for my brother who is “Chico”. The name Chicas stuck, and it reminded me of the laughter and comradery we’ve always experienced together.

While the business was getting off the ground, Ray continued to work to pay our bills, but he had a huge influence on our everyday decisions. He always helped during his free time, providing me with inspiration and motivation. When we landed our first major deal with a chain of 18 stores, he started working full time to oversee production. As Chicas Chips continued to grow in capacity, popularity and sales, the timing and opportunity was right for our two oldest daughters, Nastassia and Sarah, to join the company and help with finance and marketing.

In 2019, we were fortunate to catch the eye of Benestar Brands, LLC, a leading salty snacks company, who fiercely believed in our product and invested a great deal of time and effort to help make Chicas Chips what it is today. I’m currently the founder and president of Chicas Chips and together, with my family, we continue to operate the company. As president, I make key strategic business decisions, drive innovation, lead sales and most importantly, ensure Chicas Chips maintains the great taste our consumers have come to know and expect. Ray continues to oversee production as director of operations; Nastassia is the operations finance leader; and Sarah continues to lead marketing, e-commerce, and graphic development.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

It’s the little things in life that bring me the most joy. Sarah created “Chippy,” a cartoon character and the mascot of Chicas Chips. To increase brand awareness, my sister Rosi and I created a handmade Chippy costume and I’d wear it to our grocery store events. Chippy was a fan favorite and people loved to dance, hug and take selfies with Chippy. One of the greatest moments was when a group of kids with Downs Syndrome approached Chippy. There are no words to describe their joy. One girl in particular was extremely overwhelmed and continually wanted to hug Chippy and asked her caretaker to take pictures. Her joy was so great that I could not contain my tears. Of all the times that I wanted to quit, because of the hardships that creating a business brings, experiences like these make it all worth it.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

On the first day of selling my salsas at the Downtown Farmers Market, my sister Vilma and I had quite the adventure trying to carry an extremely heavy Chicas-branded tent through the parking garage and into the elevator to set up on the second floor of a shopping center in downtown Los Angeles. We didn’t think ahead to bring a dolly, so we tried to fit it inside our cooler with wheels. It was a debacle, but we couldn’t stop laughing. We will never forget this adventure and still laugh about it today. My lesson is simple: don’t buy a heavy tent! But, when things get tough, ask for help. Don’t attempt to do it all alone, especially when it is something you have never done before.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Beyond the delicious tasting chips, it has to be our deep family roots and our dedication to building the brand. Entrepreneurship and hard work are in our DNA. My mom’s dedication to her family and her work ethic have always served as a huge inspiration. My father’s innovative mind and self-reliance was pivotal to my upbringing. My sibling’s entrepreneurial experiences gave me the courage to start this business. My husband, Ray, is always patient and has empowered me to succeed. Our kids’ love, acceptance and admiration gave me courage to continue.

Chicas is built on family traditions and our heritage. We are proud that the brand continues to be operated by our family, and we are incredibly passionate about Chicas’ future growth and legacy.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are always working on new, innovative products, mainly developing new snacks that appeal to people’s palette and health. We are committed to ensuring our products stand out from the competition, not only with flavor, but by utilizing the highest quality and healthy ingredients to bring goodness to our customers.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

We never get anywhere alone, and there are so many people who helped me along the way. In addition to the huge role of my family, we’ve also partnered with key players who believed in our product.

Jose Gomez, a consultant in the food and beverage industry, believed in our brand and helped us implement changes to take Chicas Chips to the next level.

Carl Lee, president and CEO of Benestar Brands, and his team appreciated our commitment to retaining the integrity, flavor and quality of our products. It took us a long time to find a partner who was willing to go above and beyond to accommodate the specific production method needed to produce our tortilla chips. Benestar Brands made the investment to build a manufacturing facility, complete with innovative equipment created specifically for the Chicas.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

With my experience as an entrepreneur and starting various businesses during my career, I believe it’s important to give back through mentorships and help counsel, inspire and motivate people to pursue their goals and dreams.

Ok thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main parts of our interview. How do you define a family business? How is a family business different from a regular business?

The definition is simple. Family members working together to achieve greatness and success. There’s definitely a different dynamic with a family business, and at the end of the day, no matter what happens, the goal is to keep the family unit intact. It’s important to set the ground rules early, follow them, show grace along the way, and know at the end of the day, you’re in this together.

In your opinion or experience, what are the unique advantages that family-owned businesses have?

If done correctly, a family business can be incredibly rewarding. You have the opportunity to achieve greatness and success, while growing your love and respect for one another.

What are the unique drawbacks or blind spots that family-owned businesses have?

A family business also comes with its own set of challenges. Some family members may think that because you are a part of the family, you can relax and not bring your A game. Work disagreements can also carry over to the home and create tension. In order to succeed, we made it a priority early on to work hard and separate our work life from our personal life as much as possible.

What are some of the common mistakes you have seen family businesses make? What would you recommend to avoid those errors?

Some common mistakes include not seeing eye-to-eye, not listening to concerns and being close-minded to suggestions and opinions. To avoid those mistakes, it’s important to follow a similar chain of command and structure that exists at other companies to ensure the right processes and procedures are in place to run an effective business.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders of family businesses to help their employees to thrive?

First, make sure all family members are aware and accept that they are employees of a company and need to uphold all company expectations and policies, just as non-family employees need to do.

Additionally, everyone deserves respect. From the person who cleans all the way to the managers and leadership team, compassion and empathy go a long way. Employees also need to see that the family members are in tune to achieve greatness not only for the family unit, but for every employee.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean with a story or example?

Leadership is not about power or dictatorship. Leadership is about giving the best of yourself to achieve and inspire success. It involves leading by example, showing respect, listening to the needs of your team, and working together to achieve greatness through empowerment, even during times of adversity.

I have made it a priority to make sure every team member at Chicas believes in what Chicas stands for and understands that we will go further as a team by working toward a common goal of bringing the best products to our customers’ tables.

Here is our main question. What are the “5 Things You Need To Run A Highly Successful Family Business”? Please share a story or example for each.

Patience — It really is a virtue, especially when working with family members. Success and profitability don’t happen overnight. It takes time and there will be bumps in the road. However, with these experiences, you’ll gain the wisdom to make the right decisions.

Discipline — A positive and focused mindset is everything. I have found that through positivity, believing in our goals and staying laser-focused on the tasks at hand, we’ve been able to overcome obstacles and operate a great business. Discipline is critical for any business, especially one that is family operated.

Persistence and Perseverance– Every day can present a new challenge and an opportunity. It’s how you handle it that really matters. When we first started Chicas Chips, hustle was the name of the game. Whether it was traveling from store to store for demo events or late nights spent working through our business plan, we kept our eye on the prize. I’m proud that this hustle still continues today, and it’s what motivates me and the team to achieve our goals and dreams.

Dedication– You need to wake up every day, ready as a team to give it 100% of your effort. Trust me, there have been plenty of times where I am mentally or physically exhausted or I want to throw in the towel. But then I remember what this brand and this business means to me and my family. I give myself grace on the days when I’m feeling tired, but my dedication never wavers.

Give Back — Always be willing to share your victories and joy with others. Whether it’s through mentorship or donating your time and money, it’s important to create impact. We make it a priority to give back to our employees and within our local community.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”- Martin Luther King Jr.

Whenever things get bad — whether it’s financial, health, business, family or social issues — this quote always inspires and empowers me. It helps prove the reason to continue fighting and moving forward. Nothing worthwhile comes easy. And when you reach your goals and your potential, this quote cannot be clearer. And then you must continue.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. I admire his tenacity, his philanthropic spirit, and most of all, his ability and choice to maintain a humble lifestyle, remaining true to himself.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I love and try to live by the following amazing prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi. His words are truly daring and extremely hard to achieve since we are living in a broken world. But, if I can be an inspiration and start a movement for people, not just to hear these words but to live by them, it will be the greatest blessing ever.

Lord make Me an instrument of Your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness joy.
O Divine master grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand.
To be loved. as to love
For it’s in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born…
To eternal life.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

To keep up with all the latest developments at Chicas Chips, follow us at or on Instagram @chicascornchips.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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