Carlos Wilfredo Avelar first came across Mawi Tortillerias (5050 W. Esplanade Ave., Metairie, 504-644-2624; www.facebook.com/mawitortilleriamexicana) when his son, chef Will Avelar of Emeril Lagasse's Meril, started buying tortillas from the tiny specialty grocery. When the previous owners, a Mexican couple who had accepted job offers elsewhere, decided to sell the business, they approached Avelar. He took over in May and plans to add taco plates and lunch and dinner menus. Avelar spoke with Gambit about the tortillas.
What attracted you to the tortilla business?
Avelar: First of all, it's something that is homemade and artisanal, and I liked that. I liked the idea of having real tortillas and staying local. I always try to buy local and help the community, and I didn't want to put anyone out of work. I wanted to help the gentleman who was in kind of a bind and needed to sell. I always wanted to own a restaurant, and I thought it would be nice to have something to pass on to my (children) when I retire. I love to cook, and as a single father, I ended up cooking for (my children) a lot, and I guess that's where the interest developed. The name Mawi stems from the Mayan language and means "abundance."
How do Mawi's tortillas — and Mexican tortillas — differ from those you grew up eating in El Salvador?
A: The difference is really the size — the thickness and the texture. Ours in El Salvador are much thicker and about the size of a CD. The ones here are much thinner, maybe a 1/16th of an inch. In El Salvador, we get fresh corn that we take to the mill immediately, whereas we have already milled flour that we use here to make the masa. Also, the corn (in El Salvador) is cured with an alkalinelike solution. It's easier here, since we have the flour already made. In some countries the tortillas are made with rice, or are stone-ground.
When I was talking to the previous owners, he told me these tortillas are better than the ones that they sell at supermarkets because they are gluten-free, no cholesterol, no preservatives, and the flavor is different. It has the real taste of corn that's been milled recently. There's cornmeal, water and a pinch of salt. That's it. I mix two different kinds of flour; one is a little lighter, and one is a little rough. We just add the water and the salt and the dough is made. The tortilla machine we use was brought in from Mexico and assembled here. It shapes the tortillas and bakes them. Then we keep them warm so that when people come to pick them up, they're still warm.
They stay fresh without refrigeration for about two days, but if you put them in the refrigerator, they'd probably (be good) for two or three weeks.
Where can we find the tortillas outside of the store?
A: We're always getting new accounts. Right now we're selling to Meril, Johnny Sanchez, Willa Jean, Bacchanal (Wine), the Caddyshack (Bar & Grill) and Los Jefes (Tortilleria & Grill).
We sell to about 50 percent Americans, and the rest is to the Hispanic community. The majority is either Honduran or Mexican, but we also sell to people from El Salvador, Costa Rica, all over.
We have this custom when the girls turn 15, a quinceanera (birthday party), so we sell a lot of tortillas for those events, and weddings, birthdays, barbecues and to the different churches when they have fundraisers.