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Edward Garza has kept a secret since he was 9 years old. Forty-five years later, that secret has been the basis for growing his family legacy far beyond the reaches of its beginnings in Northwest Indiana.

Garza is the president/CEO of El Popular Inc., which his grandfather Vincent Garza created in 1927 as Mexican Specialties Co. Over the years they have produced and distributed more than 500 Mexican delectable goods, using secret family recipes inspired by past generations.

Today, they distribute their three main goods across the nation: Chorizo (seasoned pork sausage), mole (a Mexican cocoa-based sauce) and Mexican chocolate.

Garza has memories when he was 9 years old, he worked Saturdays doing odd jobs for his family and mixing spices for the chorizo, mole and chocolate.

"It was the family secret recipe, only family members were able to produce that blend," Garza said.

Today, Garza's role at the company is multi-faceted. He manages employees at both the company's locations in Valparaiso and East Chicago, works with brokers and distributors, travels to meet clients across the country, is involved with marketing and advertisement design, conducts sales, does trade shows and helps host community events.

"The work that I do is so vast, I can't even figure out what I do," Garza joked. "Every day is something different. One day could start at 2:30 a.m. at an airport, or I could be on the phone with distributors for a good part of the day, or at a meeting with our USDA meat inspectors. There's no time that I punch in and punch out. I am always punched in."

When Garza became the CEO 15 years ago, he changed the name of the business to its current title and narrowed down the hundreds of products to the three main products they sell today.

"I really focused on what was the most important aspects of the business," Garza said. "I wanted us to become a national company, and that's hard to do when you're producing 500 items... Now our distribution stretches from the Rocky Mountains to the East Coast."

Today, he works with local shops, food service businesses, restaurants and big retailers like Walmart and Meijer, to name a few.

Garza's most recent focus is expanding a line of grilling sausage called Longianiza and also taco meats for restaurants. He is also working on manufacturing all-soy and all-natural chorizos.

Sandra Navejas, general manager, has worked with the Garza's for 15 years. She aids him in several areas of the business, one of which is to track and record production and shipping conditions to comply with their stringent food safety certifications.

"One thing I want to mention is that [Edward] gives us confidence to do our best. ..." Navejas said. "He gives everyone their space to work to their abilities."

Edward Garza said many of his employees have been with the company for several years.

"I have great people in different positions that make the wheel continue to roll forward, that's a lot of what helps me do what I need to do," Edward Garza said.

How he got the job

It's a longer story than most.

Garza's family's story began four generations ago, when his grandfather moved to the Region in the 1920s from the city of Monterrey, Mexico, in the state Nuevo Leon. Garza said he migrated to this area because of the recruiting boom at the steel mills, which promised steady work and good pay.

His grandfather opened a tailor shop during the Great Depression, but was hit by a sudden turn of events.

"One night the store was robbed," Garza said. "The way it was explained to me by my uncle, is that when they stole everything, they stole everything. They even stole the garbage. He said it almost looked like they emptied the building and swept the floors. It was cleaned out. Back in those days you couldn't afford to buy new machines."

So his grandfather, Vincent Garza, found a different path: "Fulfilling the needs of the Mexican people." He used recipes from his mother and grandmother and manufacture edible goods he would sell both locally and on the streets of Chicago.

His grandfather passed the reins on to Garza's father and uncles in the 1960s and in 1981 Garza's father, Richard Garza, became the sole owner. In 2002, Edward Garza took on leadership of the business, per his aspirations and education in business administration.

Expected job growth

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, top executive positions such as Garza's are expected to grow in number by about 6 percent between 2014 and 2024, which is on par with the national average. However, the job growth of food processing workers is estimated to grow by only 2 percent between 2014 and 2024.

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