Alberto’s Churros savors success: Deep-fried treats now sold at Taco Time, Climate Pledge

Chocolate-filled churros.

Edmonds-based business Alberto’s Churros is getting broader recognition among not only Mexican restaurants in the Puget Sound region, but also through fast-food chain Taco Time. After testing the churros at a few of the locations, Taco Time on Feb. 6 started to sell churros that were made at Alberto’s Churros factory. The family-owned business was featured on Taco Time Northwest’s Instagram account in December, showing how the churros were made.

Alberto’s Churros got its start in 1987, when Alberto and Elsa Araujo opened the first bakery in Seattle’s University District that sold handmade churros and other pastries to local restaurants and passer-bys. By the mid-1990s, the demand for churros became so great that the business had outgrown the site and was relocated to its present Edmonds location, behind the downtown Edmonds Ace Hardware building. 

In 1997, Washington Gov. Gary Locke presented Alberto and Elsa – both natives of Argentina – with the Minority Enterprise Award, the highest level of national recognition that a U.S. minority-owned business can receive from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

After Alberto died in 2003 from cancer, Elsa ran the business by herself with one employee. She had to do almost everything her husband used to do, including sales and building relationships with customers, in addition to her existing role in churro production. The couple’s son, Steven Ramirez-Araujo, recalled that his mother doing everything from making deliveries to engaging with customers. 

“She was the one who was pushing new projects and trying to get things moving more,” he said. “She wasn’t carried by [my dad], but he did do certain things that she found very difficult. He was the more charismatic one who would do the selling and making friends. He would stick around and talk to people, and she’s not that type of person.”

Ramirez-Araujo didn’t start out wanting to join the family business. He earned a Ph.D. in politics and Latin American studies from University of California Santa Cruz in 2017 but wasn’t able to find a job in that profession.  In summer 2018, Elsa asked her son if he would be interested in working with her “for a while.” “My mom said, ‘You get to be your own boss, and what if we grow the business?’” Ramirez-Araujo said. “My life took a completely different track.”

Alberto’s Churros President Steven Ramirez-Araujo shows the star-shaped panel that the dough passes through in the manual compressor.
A manual churro-making machine that was imported from Argentina and was used at Alberto’s Churros before the process was automated.

Since he took over the business, Ramirez-Araujo changed the production process by pre-cooking the churros and freezing them immediately for storage to retain their straight shape. He also stopped making deliveries personally and in 1997 hired distributors – such as Sysco and later Crown Pacific and FSA – to help. In 2010, he introduced fillings in churros, such as strawberry, dulce de leche, guava and chocolate.

“When I think about that time, it’s crazy because when my parents were running the bakery, they were both doing two jobs,” Ramirez-Araujo said. His father worked at the local shipyard while his mother worked as a seamstress at Macy’s. “There may have been a transition phase, but eventually we were running only this business. It’s sustaining us.”

Ramirez-Araujo recalled that there were not a lot of people selling churros in the greater Seattle Area in the 1980s and 1990s. His parents saw that business opportunity and decided to take a chance at the churro market. 

His current major competitor, which he did not disclose, is a billion-dollar, national food company that manufactures and distributes churros to Costco, Disneyland and major grocery chains. While that company sells a variety of food, Ramirez-Araujo said that his company could compete with them in the churro and wholesale markets.

Alberto’s Churros president Steven Ramirez-Araujo (left) with employee Juvencio Fernandez. Both have worked at the company since 2018.

“Churros are almost always retail, whether it’s from a street vendor or a store that makes them in a specialty way,” he said. “In terms of wholesale churros, that’s where you start counting on one hand. There are very few in the U.S.”

Prior to the company’s shift to pre-cooked churros, “Taco Time wouldn’t have been possible because three minutes of frying is too long, especially with drive-thrus,” Ramirez-Araujo said. It was a similar situation when he was working on a deal with the Climate Pledge Arena last fall. 

Juvencio Fernandez fries several churros in the fryer with canola oil.
Juvencio Fernandez makes scores of cardboard boxes to store cooked churros in the walk-in freezer.

“(Signing the deal with) Climate Pledge, that was just from connecting with people on LinkedIn in 2023,” Ramirez-Araujo said. “And offering something that was pre-cooked, that was a game-changer because when it was raw, it was sort of like we’re starting from a disadvantage because it takes longer to fry. At Climate Pledge, they heat their churros in ovens. The raw ones can’t be heated. That customer wouldn’t have even been possible.”

Originally, Ramirez-Araujo pitched to Climate Pledge his new product, Churro Bites, which are simply churros cut and packaged into bite-size pieces. “I went to meet with them in person in June and brought samples. Once they tried samples it was a ‘no brainer’ as they put it,” he said. “An important aspect of their climate commitment is to work with local companies. In fact, they get audited, and part of the audit is a check to see how many local companies they work with and buy from. I think that once they saw that our churros are good, it was an easy decision since we were clearly a local company.”

The arena ended up buying the 16-inch churros instead of the Churro Bites and used Alberto’s Churros warmers, which have the churro company’s name and logo on them. 

A dough mixer that creates the churro dough.
This machine quickly combines the filling with the churro dough in an assembly line. Before Alberto’s Churro bought the machine, each churro had to be manually filled with a baster.
Buckets of fillings are waiting to be placed inside the churros.

A churro is basically a deep-fried dough sprinkled with sugar. Ramirez-Araujo said that it is a vegan food because the original recipe does not include milk or eggs, which many churro manufacturers add in their dough.

“A churro isn’t supposed to be like a cake,” he said. “It’s supposed to be crispy on the outside, soft on the inside.” He added that most people’s experience with churros came from eating them at amusement parks and Costco.

While the familiar star-shaped churro with its cinnamon and sugar coating came to the U.S. from Mexico, its origins can be traced back to Spain and Portugal in the 1500s when both countries were trading with China and other Asian countries. Some historians theorize that the Spaniards and the Portuguese got the churro idea from the Chinese fried dough – youtiao – which is often served with congee.

However, some historians think that churros have an older origin that goes back to the Al-Andalus era, when the Moors used to rule most of the Iberian Peninsula from the 8th century until 1492. Chinese historian Miranda Brown of the University of Michigan wrote that the popular “Asian Donut Theory” ignored more obvious sources of churros, such as the zlabia banane from Algeria. 

Food historian Michael Krondl said that today’s churro is not that different from a recipe for a flour and water fritter that can be found in Apicius, a 1st century AD Roman cookbook. “In the Mediterranean basin, it’s basically been around forever,” he said.

Taco Time had taken churros off their menu in 2019 because of sales and popularity issues. However, the company told Ramirez-Araujo that they would have circled back around to selling churros much quicker if not for the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Taco Time has been a big dream for our family. This goes all the way back to when my dad was alive,” he said. “If he knew that we would get Taco Time 20 years after his passing he would be blown away.”

— Story and photos by Nick Ng

  1. Your dedication to your family business is inspiring! Your mother has to be so proud and as an Edmonds resident I can’t wait to share your success with my friends and insist they buy a dozen just as I plan to do. Congratulations!!

  2. Steven,te lo escribo en español Congratulations,Bravo,por ti por el recuerdo de tu padre, y su suenio cumplido.No se si nos recordas .Abrazote y churros con mate .Mmmmm goooooood.

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