The story of Tony’s Grocery is a story of an immigrant’s success. Located on the famous Hero Street in Silvis, IL, and founded in 1947, this business is part of the history of Latinos in the Quad Cities. It was sold earlier this spring. Sylvia Soliz, the daughter of Tony Sausedo, the founder of Tony’s Grocery, ran the business by herself for more than two decades before the sale. Tony’s Grocery became locally known for their delicious tortillas made with love by a family of immigrants from Mexico. When they weren’t making tortillas, they worked on the railroad.
“My uncle started bringing items like dried beans, chorizo and ancho chilis from Chicago to sell to our neighbors on Hero Street,” shares Soliz about their humble beginnings. Her uncle made the shopping trip to the big city once a week, often with a list of requests from the residents of the neighborhood. “My dad didn’t think his brother was business savvy, so he decided to take charge and make a business out of it,” says Soliz.
Sometimes Sylvia’s father would accompany his brother and bring back tortillas. Unfortunately, tortillas did not hold well during transportation so Sausedo decided to make his own that he could sell to his neighbors. Dicho y hecho (said and done), as they say in Spanish and a business was born. In 1959 Sausedo acquired a grinder and tortilla oven from a man in Moline to increase production to meet demand.
But it wasn’t smooth sailing once Saucedo had the equipment. “He assumed there was a recipe that came with the machine, but the man told him, “you only bought the machine, you didn’t buy a recipe.” If Saucedo would have known that at the time, he wouldn’t have bought it!” says Soliz with a laugh.
So, Sausedo set off to Mexico to learn how to make corn tortillas. “I remember recipe books in Spanish and English,” says Soliz of the days her father practiced making tortillas. The family spent hours trying recipes until they found one they liked. It was only the beginning. Next, they had to figure out how to cool those round yellow discs of corn goodness.
“Initially, us kids had to put them on card tables to cool and then we had to wrap them with big sheets of wax paper, then we sold them,” Soliz remembers of her days of working in the family business. “We worked every day making tortillas, and every day he sold tortillas.”
As corn tortillas started gaining popularity, Sausedo’s business sense told him it was time to offer more than just tortillas. Tony’s Grocery started selling corn masa as well. “This became popular so then this progressed to frying taco shells and tostada shells to sell to our customers. The corn tortillas were always the more popular product,” recalls Soliz.
Tony Sausedo passed away in 1996, and since then Soliz has run the business on her own, seven days a week for 35 years. After three and a half decades of work at her family’s business, Soliz decided it was time to retire. “I feel sad. It is hard to give up what you love doing. I liked making tortillas and my customers. It is hard to give up,” says Soliz.
But as one chapter of her life closes, another begins. Soliz plans to enjoy her retirement to the fullest spending time with her grandkids and great-grandkids.
Tony’s Grocery is a great example of immigrant success selling a staple food out of their home that grew into a family business with a storefront. Over the years it gained many customers who kept returning for superb tortillas made on-site. This business may have a new owner while Soliz says goodbye to her customers and shares a few words of wisdom with the new owner. “Tony’s Groceries has been successful because of loyal customers and their support. They were a large part of my life, and I will miss them very much. I left you great customers, enjoy them as I did.”