Karen greeted me at Market last Friday with “Guess what? We have TWO tamale vendors! When Juanita isn’t able to be here, Juan Morales will occupy her spot, selling his mom’s tamales — ‘Rosa’s Tamales’.”
“Splendid!” I replied. I know we have vendors as well as customers who need their weekly homemade tamale “fix”.
As the morning progressed, I kept an eye on Juan’s booth. Busy busy! When there was a lull, I popped around, pen in hand, and asked him for a smidgen of his time. “Yes, of course!” he replied with a smile as warm and inviting as his tamales. “What would you like to know?”
“Well, I’m always curious as to what brings people to Teton Valley...,” I began.
“My family and I were living in California in the 1990s. It became too crowded, so we moved to Jackson in 1998. We enjoyed it there, but it was getting expensive. So, in 2001, we moved to Victor. After graduating from Teton High School, I left to go to college. But, I came back to the Valley, and about five years ago, started making tamales. Tamales are a traditional Mexican holiday food, and I wanted to provide a healthy lifestyle option for the traditionally heavy Latino food. So I give them a healthy boost using ingredients from all three food groups (protein, carbs, fat). I’d known about the many farmers and producers here in the Valley, so I knew I’d be able to use locally-sourced ingredients. My goal is to create foods that are healthy, affordable, and delicious, using as many local ingredients as possible. I guess you might say I provide traditional Latino eating adventures using locally-sourced, healthy ingredients for people on the go!
“Another goal I have is to use ingredients that become available according to growing charts, not by mono-cropping. Our small farms here make that happen, and they are all making big changes in doing so. Look at the diversity of their crops, and the ways they treat their land, their animals, and their water. We need to keep that going by reinforcing local consumption. In doing so, we are supporting our local economy and improving our land. It’s a win-win situation!”
Juan pauses. I’m scribbling away like mad, hoping to catch everything he’s saying. He smiles broadly at me and continues, “In addition, I make shaved ice with fruits to bring to Sunday soccer in Jackson. I use mangos, pineapples, bananas, and as much local fruit (Idaho apples and pears, and Colorado peaches) as possible. The left-over fruits I make into my Naughty Fruit. They have an extra “twang” I add to the process.
“My first commercial space in the Valley was next to Suba in Victor. They were very nice and supportive. I sold burritos there as well as green smoothies I made with celery, kale, and yogurt. I also did catering, and sold at the Farmer’s and People’s Markets in Jackson.”
“How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your business?” I asked.
“Big time,” Juan laughs in spite of himself. “March is when I usually start selling in Jackson at the People’s Market. Not this year! Even my on-line business went ‘out the window’! A big financial blow, but I’m not down. Times like these can make you stronger, forcing you to become creative. Rethink new strategies.
“In March, my family and I opened a new shop in the Industrial Center here in Driggs next to Rob Dupre’s Chasing Paradise. Since then, my Naughty Fruit sales have increased. In August, I’m planning a Kick Starter campaign to grow that business even more.”
“Where are your mom and dad?” I asked.
“Back at the shop in Driggs making more tamales for tomorrow’s Market in Jackson. They’re in their sixties, but they love to participate. I enjoy being out selling, getting to know my neighbors. Interesting how tough times give us all opportunities to connect.”