The story began in Mecca, California, where Enrique and Graciela Bautista raised their five children near the shores of the desolate Salton Sea, across the street from the field of date palms where Padre served as foreman and Madre assisted with the harvest and packing. Upon the retirement of the original owners in 1999, Enrique and Graciela purchased the property. The children – Alicia, Maricela, Alvaro, Jaime, and Enrique Jr., each with their own young families – returned to the date ranch across the street from their childhood home.
Under Enrique's expert care, the date harvests grew. Son Alvaro learned how to care for the trees and the crop, and extended the dates' reach, adding several farmers markets to the schedule.
On a cold winter's day in 2004, Alicia's 13-year-old son Fernando called home with terrifying news: Grandpa is bleeding and unconscious. On the drive home from a Temecula farmers market, a car accident brought a change of course. With steep bills for surgeries and hospitalization, deepening debt, and a home and ranch suddenly inaccessible to the man who had spent most of his years among the date palms, the struggles that the Bautistas faced were fierce.
Yet Enrique would be the Ranch's foreman once again. His family built paths navigable by his electric wheelchair, sold palm trees to supplement the date income, and faced the trauma head-first by continuing their grueling lineup of farmers markets. Though participation required 3 a.m. wake-up calls, hundreds of miles of driving every week, overnight stays, and exhaustion, the markets were the Bautista family's connection to their customers — and the source of 90% of their income. The humble dream of keeping the family together at the Ranch seemed entirely out of reach.
Then, a call from a new customer led to an unusual conversation. Alicia had never met the voice on the other end of the phone, a near-stranger who sensed something special about the family behind these extraordinary, yet undiscovered dates.
The customer had called to order dates, but questions tugged at her: In this internet age, who would ship out a package of mouthwatering gems without any prepayment – just an envelope tucked inside for mailing a check? Why had she heard of only Medjool and Deglet Noor, when this little farm in Mecca grew seven varieties, each with its distinct personality and charm? Why did we eat dried, packaged dates when Bautista Dates exist? And what an extraordinary work ethic it must take to farm in extreme temperatures and still trek to farmers markets each week — How is this family getting by? She peppered Alicia with these wonderings. And then, a deeper question: Alicia, what is your dream? The conversation turned to hope, and a plan.
January 2011 marked the launch of the 7HOTDATES webshop. Soon the family was shipping hundreds of date samplers and cultivar boxes each week, and planting more date palms as quickly as possible to feed the appetites of new, enthusiastic fans.
Many of those same fans have supported the Bautista family not only by purchasing dates, but also by pitching in on everything from photography and writing to figuring out how to ship fresh dates to Canada.
And the family's dream? Within the first few months, Alvaro was able to remove several markets from the weekly rotation, trading them for the joy of more days of togetherness at the Ranch, more smiles from the ladies in the packing house, more carne asada lunches with the extended family.