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‘The secret is love’: Bivi’s Tamales struggles but stays afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic 



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Bivianna Torres prepares tamales Sept. 26 in the parking lot of Bloomingfoods East. Torres said she has had to make difficult adjustments due to the coronavirus pandemic, including laying off employees and selling more tamales frozen, but hopes business will get better in the next year. Phyllis Cha

Bivi’s Tamales, served in the Indiana Memorial Union in The Globe as well as other places in town, has faced similar problems to other businesses while operating during the COVID-19 pandemic. Owner Bivianna Torres said the pandemic has slashed business nearly in half for her.

She has had to make difficult adjustments, including laying off employees and selling more tamales frozen, but hopes business will get better in the next year.

“I’m working on a COVID schedule by COVID rules,” Bivi said.

Bivi’s Tamales started 10 years ago when Bivi worked at IU Health Bloomington Hospital. While work, doing laundry and hospital office tasks were not her passion, she needed health insurance to pay for her knee surgery. During lunch breaks, Bivi would eat her now-popular homemade tamales.

“Why don’t you ever eat McDonald's or other fast food?” Her coworkers asked.

“I don’t believe in fast food,” Bivi responded.

She said she began bringing tamales for her coworkers during every shift. Eventually, she was bringing them to work by the dozens. Her boss used to jokingly tell her she should start her own business.

When her contract with IU Health was terminated, Bivi decided to invest time into creating the business. At first, Bivi said she was delivering the tamales out of her house to her customers. Later, someone working for the Owen County Farmers’ Market in Spencer, Indiana, found out about her tamales and invited her to be a vendor there. From there, it took off, she said.

“I’m a one-woman show,” Bivi said.

Bivianna Torres hands a tamale to a customer Sept. 26 outside Bloomingfoods East. Torres said the pandemic has slashed business nearly in half for her. Phyllis Cha

Bivi also sells her tamales at the IMU on Mondays and Thursdays, at the parking lot of Bloomingfoods East on Saturdays and online through the People’s Market.

IU sophomore Joe Angert orders Bivi’s Tamales when they’re at The Globe. He said he appreciates IU supporting local businesses by incorporating their food in IU Dining.

Angert said it’s different to see employees wearing face shields and seeing plexiglass everywhere.

“It’s definitely different from what we’re used to, but that’s just the new normal for the time being until we handle coronavirus,” he said.

Bivi said she makes about 700 tamales every week. Each tamale is carefully weighed out and handmade. Currently, Bivi has one employee helping her.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bivi had to let go of all of her former staff, whom she considered family. She said it was painful for her.

“We had all of these plans and overnight it was canceled,” Bivi said.

While business is better than it was at the beginning of quarantine, it’s still not nearly at the level it was last year. On Saturdays, at the parking lot of Bloomingfoods East, she couldn’t see the end of the line to her booth. Now, the longest it gets is six to seven people.

“I used to be worried I’d run out of tamales,” Bivi said, laughing.

Bivianna Torres points at her tamales Sept. 26 outside Bloomingfoods East. “I’m working on a COVID schedule by COVID rules,” Torres said. Phyllis Cha

Business also wasn’t great at the IMU this year when The Globe reopened. Bivi said she got 28 orders her first week. Last year, she used to get more than 200 orders a week. While business has been slowly picking up, Bivi said she doesn’t think it’s ever going to be the same.

Those weren’t the only hits her business took. Bivi said she had multiple catering events last year. This year, she’s only had one, and it was for family friends.

But for Bivi, money isn’t the real reason she continues to work hard for her business. She said her business is her true passion.

“I love my job,” she said. “More than anything, I truly love what I do.”

For Bivi, making tamales has a long family history. She said the first time she ever made tamales was when she was 7 years old. Her mother, who had been preparing to make tamales, was rushing to the hospital because her grandfather had been in an accident.

“Take care of the tamales,” her mother said.

Bivi said she got to work forming and steaming the tamales by herself. When her mom came home from the hospital, she was surprised to find that Bivi had actually made the tamales instead of just putting the ingredients away.

To this day, Bivi still uses her great-grandmother’s recipe. She said people often ask her what her secret to making the tamales taste so good is.

“I have no secrets,” Bivi said, smiling. “The secret is love, I love what I do.”

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