Hispanic shares sweet desires

For the love of flan
Sophi Flan » Creamy egg and milk dessert is a favorite in Mexico and, thanks to the custard king, it's catching on in Utah.
By Kathy Stephenson The Salt Lake Tribune 03/03/2009

Just call Horacio Vallejo the custard king.

Every week the 35-year-old business owner bakes more than 200 Mexican flan -- some 2,000 slices -- for Hispanic restaurants and markets from Brigham City to Payson.

In Mexico, this creamy, egg and milk dessert is a national favorite, much like cheesecake or ice cream in America, said Vallejo, the owner of Sophi Flan. "You'll find it in every restaurant in Latin America and Spain."

So just imagine how difficult it was for Vallejo to come to Salt Lake City in 1999 and find nothing like the caramel-coated treat his grandmother made in Mexico City.

Vallejo and his wife, Maribel, spent two or three months experimenting with recipes and ingredients just to enjoy
When Horacio Vallejo came to Utah in 1999 he missed the milk flan made by his grandmother he enjoyed in Mexico. He and his wife started experimenting and soon they came up with a great flan recipe and their company Sophi Flan was born.

"We wanted to make a big and rich flan," said Vallejo.

They were successful. Their final version is a dense "Flan Napolitano" made with whole milk, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla and cream cheese.

From the beginning the Vallejo's Salt Lake City neighbors and friends raved about the dessert. It wasn't until they started receiving requests to make it for special events and parties that they decided to turn the side job into a business.

After working all day at a local restaurant, Vallejo would spend his nights in a borrowed commercial kitchen making flan. Initially he sold the dessert to restaurants, such as the Blue Iguana restaurant in Salt Lake City.

"We have customers who say they've never tasted flan so good," said manager, Tina Ambriz. "It really tastes like homemade."

Today, Sophi Flan provides the flan for many of Utah's fast-food Mexican restaurant such as Beto's and Alberto's.

In 2004, Vallejo received a $10,000 loan from the Utah Microenterprise fund, which enabled him to purchase a refrigerated delivery van and other needed equipment. After that, the business was able to expand into Hispanic grocery stores. Rancho Markets,
Marissas and La Herradura De Oro sell the individual-size flans as well as Sophi Flan's rice pudding.

Eli Madrigal, owner of Rancho Markets has been buying Sophi Flan products for about two years. Madrigal said the creamy flan is what her customers prefer and she likes supporting a local businesses.

"The ingredients he uses on his products make makes it different than other (commercial) flans," she said. And even though she loves the custard, she limits herself to one a month.

"I like it," said Madarigal, "But it has too many calories."

With business growing, Vallejo was been able to quit his restaurant job and devote all his time to Sophi Flan, named for the oldest of the Vallejo's four children. The company now has its own commercial kitchen in South Salt Lake and its Web site -- www.sophiflan.com -- is up and running this week.

Except for two employees who help with packaging and kitchen clean-up, Vallejo does all the work himself, from mixing and baking to delivery and marketing.

"When I first started I was cracking eggs by hand and using those small cans of sweetened condensed milk," said Vallejo. "Now everything is easier, something I never imagined when my wife and I started."

kathys@sltrib.com

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