Spicing Things Up

30 Apr 2018

Morales family businesses focus on food

Winter 2017/2018

Written By: Michelle DeLong | Images: Megan Peterson

At a local soccer match, Juan Morales hands out his homemade, preservative-free, no-sugar-added Naughty Fruit snacks to friends, as his family is nearby selling their famous tamales, tacos, fruit cups, and shaved ice. Recently, Juan has begun to package and sell his dried “Naughty Fruit” in hopes of sustaining his family’s business.

“Being naughty is part of who I am,” Juan laughs, as he winks and waves to a fellow soccer fan, teasing him about his team’s outcome. “We have all been a little naughty at one time or another. My fruit snacks are made with love…and a little spice.”

Juan and his family, including his parents Horacio and Rosa, are originally from Guanajuato, Mexico. Horacio and Rosa were concerned about gang-related activity and wanted to move their children to a safer area.

“They feared for us with the gang-related activity,” Juan explains.

Unfortunately, hardships were still in store for the close-knit Morales family. A lifetime of intense physical labor literally broke Horacio’s back, and Rosa was laid off. It was 2009, and Juan had recently graduated from Boise State University with a degree in communications.

“We were in a tough spot,” Juan says. “We were about to lose our house. So I ended up coming home. I wanted to build something, so we wouldn’t have to live paycheck to paycheck anymore. All our friends love my mom’s tamales, so I figured, why not apply what I learned at school and sell them at the farmers’ markets?”

Fast forward four years, and the line at the farmers’ market for Rosa’s homemade tamales is the longest in sight. One bite and you will understand why—everything from the dough to the sauce is made from scratch, and the tamales are cooked for two hours over an open flame.

Like the difference between Rosa’s tamales and the freezer aisle variety, there is a vast difference between the delightfully chewy pineapple, mango, strawberry, and banana in a Naughty Fruit bag than in any grocery store array. The subtle, balanced spice mixture perfectly rounds out the natural sweetness of the fruit, which Juan personally selects for quality.

Juan points to the mosquito bites on his legs as proof of his recent trip to Costa Rica, where he met with pineapple growers. He envisions expanding Naughty Fruit, following in the footsteps of his mentors at Jackson Hole’s own Start-Up Institute, where he was the first Latino graduate in 2012. Don’t be surprised if Juan is one of their keynote speakers one day, because honestly, this guy could sell shaved ice at an outdoor hockey game—and he probably has.

“I don’t have time to be shy,” Juan laughs. Then, he becomes serious, and looks toward his brother, Jesus, who is packing up the truck. “I want something better for my family, and for myself.”

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