Bien Padre Corn Tortilla Chips

Flax Grande Organic Yellow

| June 17, 2010
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Bien Padre -- The hip Mexican brand name surprised me when I first saw it years ago. I wondered if the owners of the company knew what it meant -- but more on that later. Let's review the chips:

Most of us on the North Coast are familiar with the industrial-sized corn chips from Bien Padre. They're the ones that don't break when you scoop up a load of guacamole. "You can really taste the corn," someone said to me recently. Yeah duh, they're corn tortilla chips after all. But her point was that the predominant flavors in most corn tortilla chips are salt and oil. Not so with Bien Padre's Flax Grandes. The toasty corn flavor is pleasantly accompanied by the agreeably bitter, nutty-flavored flax seeds (an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids). Cooked in sunflower oil and lightly sprinkled with sea salt, you won't find a more healthful chip.

Flax Grandes can be enjoyed plain, but they're famous for scooping guacamole. I enjoy them with thinly sliced cheddar, and they go surprisingly well with goat cheese. I heartily recommend Cypress Grove's Purple Haze (flavored with lavender and a trace of fennel) on Flax Grandes for a complex and satisfyingly flavorful treat.

Back to the mysterious name. When marketing manager Seyedu Chalker started with Bien Padre Foods a few years back, he was often teased by Spanish speaking employees when he was out on his sales and delivery rounds. He'd walk in and they'd say, "Hey, we like your truck; it's bien padre!" They would chuckle and then say, "Hey, we like your shoes; they're bien padre!" Mr. Chalker asked a Hispanic family member about the joshing and learned that the Mexican colloquial phrase means something to the effect of "super cool."

From the first time I saw the brand, my hunch was that the company owners were not native Spanish speakers, but a serendipitous mistake seemed unlikely. Chalker confirmed that indeed the original owners of the company were not Spanish speakers. He reckons that one of the original employees, with tongue in cheek (after all, bien padre is the rough equivalent of "bitchin'"), suggested the name.

Bien Padre Foods started in 1974, with the proletarian tagline, "Great Food at a Fair Price." They began with organic corn tortillas, and after borrowing a deep fryer from a local Mexican restaurant, they ventured into the competitive tortilla chip market. I come from the land of tortilla chips, and I guarantee you that from Topanga to Tijuana there's nothing comparable. The bitchin' name wouldn't hurt sales down there either.

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Comments (9)

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Several years ago I joined my daughter's class from Loleta School for a tour of Bien Padre. Making chips is a fascinating process. Nice review, Joel!

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Posted by Carol on 06/18/2010 at 8:05 AM

Thanks for bringing awareness to this local brand. Their food products are bien padre! And oh I love those little bag of flax tortilla chips too.

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Posted by Kate on 06/18/2010 at 9:34 PM

It may be apocryphal, but I was told the company was one of several commercial ventures, (like the Tri-City Weekly), started by Born-Again Christians associated with the Lighthouse Ranch in those days. As such, the name was not a colloquialism, but a, (possibly coded for non-Spanish speakers), reference to the literal translation of the two words. Since I also tend to be a bit of a spelling “snob,” (“Mailbox” – same issue), and have a limited Spanish vocabulary, I looked them up in the Random House American Dictionary, 1967, Spanish to English section. “Bien” = Good “Padre” = Father, which does not refer to your dad, but to … Don’t look up, He’s watching you. Who knows? Knew? Whatever – the chips are great. Bruce Slocum, Ferndale

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Posted by Bruce Slocum on 06/23/2010 at 8:06 AM

Usage note: Bien is an adverb that would correspond with the English "well." "Good father" would be buen padre.

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Posted by Joel Mielke on 06/23/2010 at 3:30 PM

Um, somebody should remember this better than me - Didn't Bien Padre originate in Manila around 1968, a make-work program under Lyndon Johnson that spun itself into a private enterprise? That's how I'm remembering it, a Job Corps caper that got legs. Was John Wooley one of the founders?

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Posted by good rockin' Derral on 06/24/2010 at 8:37 PM

In the early 80s my husband worked for a company that distributed the Bien Padre chips and tortillas in the Orleans-Willow Creek-Hawkins Bar areas. I got to see the place one night when it was closed but he described how the chips were not 'fried' as one would think of immersion frying, but moving through the oil quickly, making for a less greasy, crisper chip. I knew a little Spanish and questioned the name, he said he didn't know Spanish but he had been told it was a Christian company. I had also been told it represented acquiescence--as in saying, Bien, Padre: I accept, Father. Their corn tortillas were the best also--I live in LA now and while there are more tortillarias than you can count, the number of really good tortillas can be counted on one hand. To me, Bien Padre just means good chips, good tortillas.

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Posted by lynda on 07/04/2010 at 2:43 AM

it was in one of the early company meetings the founders were searching for a company name.A lady employeed there said you should call the company "bien padre". One of the owners said what does it mean, the lady replied " good father".Then the founder said that is it the perfect name for the perfect corn chip.

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Posted by jim stotts on 06/08/2011 at 2:29 PM

Well, she was wrong about the translation, but it's a great name.

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Posted by Joel Mielke on 06/08/2011 at 4:14 PM

I am wondering if this is the Journal's move into native advertising. Is this a paid ad?

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Posted by T Jonathon Proctor on 08/05/2014 at 9:00 AM
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