San Diegan who introduced millions to Mexican drinks dies at 81

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SAN DIEGO -- Manuel Marruenda, the man who turned a garage startup into a multimillion-dollar Mexican tropical drink empire, died of natural causes Sept. 28 in San Diego. He was 81.

Born in Mexico City in 1936, Marruenda is survived by four children, six grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and his business, Fiesta Pacific Products.

If you’ve had tropical drinks such as horchata, jamaica, or tamarindo in a taco shop, odds are they came from Fiesta Pacifica.

Marruenda introduced those flavors to the San Diego market when he started the company out of his southeast San Diego home in 1980, recalls his sister-in-law and the company’s office manager, Laura Escajadillo.

The company started out by selling soda fountains to taco shops. But instead of Pepsi or Sprite, they came with traditional Mexican flavors. Fiesta Pacific’s client list is a who’s who of San Diego taco shops. Its roster includes Lolita’s, Roberto’s, Alberto’s and Santana’s.

Manuel Marruenda founded Fiesta Pacific Products in 1980. The company introduced Mexican tropical drinks such as horchata and tamarindo to the American market by selling them to taco shops throughout the United States. (Photo: SD U-T)

As those mom-and-pop taco shops grew into regional chains, Marruenda’s business grew with them. When Roberto’s opened a store in Las Vegas, Marruenda began selling tropical drinks throughout Nevada. When another shop, Beto’s, opened in Utah, Marruenda went with it.

Today, Fiesta Pacific is in 17 states, including Washington, Illinois, Texas, and Iowa. And the company is growing, particularly in non-Hispanic markets.

Read Gustavo Solis' full story on San Diego Union-Tribune.

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