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George Puentes Leaves a Legacy in Salem

Written by Luis Ramirez on Nov. 8th, 2023
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George Puentes was a legendary figure in the Salem area who left behind a lasting legacy after passing away at the age of 76. 

Puentes served in the Air Force before beginning his career with Del Monte Foods in the Bay Area. Together with his brothers and father, they created a craft tortilla baking company and named it Don Pancho Mexican Foods Inc. and settled in Salem in 1979. 

He became the President of the company until retiring in 2014.

“We lost an amazing person who loved his family, loved our community, and really worked hard to set an example as a Hispanic businessman for the Hispanic community,” his brother-in-law and President of Don Panchos, Ricardo Baez said. “He had such a huge impact and wanted to make sure kids understood the importance of an education so that they could better themselves and better their community.”

Puentes was extremely active in the Salem community, serving as Board President of the Salem Chamber of Commerce, serving on the Salem City Council, and as a board member on the Federal Reserve System, NW Natural Gas, and the Meyer Memorial Trust.

Puentes helped the lives of many and was always committed to advancing the lives of young people and those around him. 

“I was drawn to serving Board member George Puentes for his thoughtful approach with Salem Chamber staff team members,” Salem Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Hoffert said. “He actively listened, conversed, engaged, and compassionately made sure each staff team member felt valued in their role within the organization.  A few years later, George would ascend to Board Chair/President of the Salem Chamber and was a proud advocate for all voices across Salem’s business community and workforce.”

One of his most impactful moments was helping to establish the Scholarships for Oregon Latinos Fund for students hoping to attend college. The scholarship was in memory of his son, George Puentes Jr., who tragically passed away at the age of 25.

The scholarship has helped nearly 174 students with $302,000 in scholarship money to help attend college. He also had a scholarship at Don Pancho’s to help Latino workers at the company.

“He felt it was so important for our young Latino community to get an education so they can not only have a voice but have a seat at the table,” Baez said. “That’s the point he always tried to make with the young kids, is have them be personal and have a community impact.”

Puentes helped the company grow into a Pacific Northwest staple, as their tortillas and products are found in stores throughout Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

“As a business leader with our company, he made it a point to expect excellence from all of us and made sure every employee felt valued,” Baez said. “We have an important product that our community and is part of our fiber. We had a responsibility to get it right and take care of our customers and be proud of what we’re making and serving.”

Puentes and the company have been locally and nationally recognized, having been inducted into the International Tortilla Baking Hall of Fame, earning the Salem Chamber’s First Citizen Award, receiving the Oregon History Makers Medal and being a guest of President George W. Bush on two occasions at the White House. 

George had a loving family that would continue to carry on the legacy after him including his wife Stephanie, his mother Hortensia and siblings Frank, Robert, Phillip, Patricia, and Monica Baez. 

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