Some very exciting changes are happening over at 1757 W. 18th Street. Meztisoy Food Market & Cafe has recently opened their doors. Not only do they sell an impressive array of locally sourced everything, they also have a café with delicious food options. Local Produce, honey, dairy, tofu, tortilla chips, and more. ITAK loves the Meztisoy Café! It has a long list of taco choices, perhaps most uniquely a vegan soyrizo taco plus an authentic barbacoa taco. If these photos don’t convince you, challenge your taste buds and stop by to try one!
Sonia, one of the owner’s of Meztisoy interviewed by Kristina Daignault and Michael Soto.
Kristina: When did you guys first open up here?
Sonia: Officially, we opened in September.
K: So you’re very new.
K: We have a friend who lives just a couple of blocks that way, and he’s going to be part of our show, and he said he comes in all the time, and it’s his new favorite place, and he said, “You should call her!”
S: That’s awesome.
K: You guys carry many organic things. Is there anything you want to highlight?
S: I think we’re not only proud of trying to carry organic, but more local products, more local vendors. That’s [what] we try to focus on. For example, the Michigan apples—they’re not necessarily certified organic, but just the fact that we are supporting local farmers and local artists who have talent and want to put stuff on consignment. For example, their art or their jewelry. We’re going to do that. We’re going to make sure that we have local vendors that have stuff, especially from the neighborhood; we have so much talent here. One of the things we’re very proud of is our local honey. We’re extremely proud of local honey. We have honey sticks from Aurora, and we have local honey, raw unfiltered, the best of the best, from Pullman, a local grower that’s been raising bees more than ten years. So, the more local vendors, the better for us.
K: I totally agree. Every time we come in, we sort of wander around a little, and we find something different. “Ooh, that’s another thing we can buy here.” It’s fun that we don’t have to go… we only live a mile… It’s much closer to come here. Things I would go very far for, you have here.
S: Good. That’s what we want.
K: I’m just excited that I can support a more local business.
S: The fact that we’re raised and born here, I wouldn’t go anywhere else to open a store. I attempted to open a grocery store seven years ago called Soy Organic Market—a play on words, “I am organic,“ soy organic. It was right around the corner, but it was hidden on Paulina, right in the middle of the neighborhood. I think I was way ahead of my time, and I had to shut down, unfortunately. For some reason, God just opened this door of opportunity saying, “OK, now it’s your turn again. Give it another shot.”
Michael: So you’re from Pilsen.
S: I’m raised and born in Pilsen.
K: What has the response been in the month that you’ve been open? What have you been getting from people?
S: I’ve had so much great positive response. Not only because we carry local and not only because we carry organic, because we are in the people business and in the neighborhood business, and the fact that they see a face, and they see, “Hey Tony, what’s going on?” when they walk in the store. That’s the kind of environment we want to focus on more than anything. Not, “Give me your money and get out, I don’t care.” It’s more like, “How are you doing? How are you feeling? You know, you should try this.” So it’s more intimate. Versus, “I just want you here for money, and I don’t care what your name is, and I don’t care who you are.” It’s more like, “This is our family, and we want to get to know your family. And whatever I want to serve my family, I want to serve to my neighborhood family. That’s basically the essence and the core of this—being as real as possible. One of things that I love is that I’m a social butterfly, and I just want to know everyone. I like that connection. When I have the organic experience of, “Hey”—they meet. It’s like a network. They hang out, they’re talking to you, they know you, and you see what they’re doing, and you’re like, “Hey, this so-and-so person does this, and this so-and-so person…” And it’s a full synergy of connection in an environment like this. So we want to make it like a mercado, too. You walk around this mercado in Mexico and you see fruits and vegetables, meats, you find restaurants, you find people you know, you find… so it’s like a little mercado. So that’s how come our restaurant is expanding faster than our grocery section. They love the ambience, and they want to stay longer. They sit down. Plus the food, too. They’re raving about it. The vegan selection food—so it’s not this dull vegan food—it’s more of a spice to it.
K: We tried the soyrizo yesterday when we were here. I was surprised. I was a little skeptical, personally. Do you guys make that here?
K: How do you make that?
S: We actually… we get the raw material, which is the dry soy-based…
K: Is it a powder?
S: No, it’s actually little pieces, little dried pieces of the soy or vegetable protein. We make sure it’s no GMO, and what we do is we… our chef in the back prepares is so it has no additive flavor, no artificial coloring, no preservatives, nothing. It’s made from real spicces—our traditional spice chiles, paprika, cayenne, guajillo… all the dry chiles that we boil, and we use the consistency and the taste with the salt, and we just put it together and we make the soyrizo.
K: We were both thinking, “How does this happen?” We were trying to imagine a tofu block and how you get soy sausage out of that.
M: Do you make your own beef jerky, too?
S: We do make our own beef jerky. And our beef jerky—la carne seca… We’re also going to make the soy with the taste of carne asada.
K: How many soy-based options do you guys have right now?
S: In regards to the kitchen, it’s just soyrizo. The juice bar is something else—we have the kale smoothie almond milk or soy milk that we also add. We haven’t done a lot of marketing, but we’re going to work on that right now. Also, the soy and the tofu is also a local vendor.
K: Really? That’s cool.
S: We went to go visit their factory where they make the tofu. We met with them. We’re very happy with the product. They make sure it’s non-GMO, and we’re going to carry that.
K: So you sell it to buy as well?
S: Yes, we sell it to buy, and we cook with it.
M: Where in Chicago are they?
S: Way North. It’s called Phoenix if you look them up. They’re just amazing.
K: I didn’t know there was a local tofu option.
S: You can go in there and see how the soybean’s coming out and how they make the tofu. It’s super-exciting.
M: How do you make all these connections? Do they come to you?
S: Remember I had Soy Organic before? I kept my contacts, and being here, too… that network, “Hey, I work for so-and-so company, you should check it out.” And boom, I check it out. I waste no time. They recommend me to a farm, and I say, “Hey, I’m going to go.” And of course, there’s the farmers markets. For example, this man that [brought] the Michigan apples, I got chickens from him, and I got so much information, because I just asked, “I know that there’s chickens over there.” And he’s like, “As a matter of fact, we do,” or there’s so-and-so who does it. That’s how we get all these connections.
K: So the market is around that way? [18th & Halsted]
S: That market, the one in Pullman, the one in Bridgeport, and different markets. Like I said, just talking to customers themselves, they’re like, “Hey, I work in this farmers market. You should check out this.” Even our workers that work here. We have a girl that works for Phoenix, the tofu company. She said, “You have to check this out!” I’m like, “Definitely! Why not?”