Leydi Lopez and her mother are emotional following the news that they have to shut down El Sabor Tabasqueno, their taco enterprise they started in their home.
“Somebody from the city came to the house,” says Lopez. “They spoke to my brother, because I was at work. They were like, ‘Just finish up for today.’” The family decided to continue selling their wildly popular birria tacos and enchilados dulces through last Sunday.
This small business in started January with a simple post on Lopez’s Snapchat letting her network know she was selling quesabirria-style tacos, crispy griddled tacos dipped in and served with a concentrated consommé for dipping. The idea started after Lopez watched tons of videos on Tik Tok and Facebook describing how to make the popular food. The first day they took 50 orders. Eventually, El Sabor was filling 300 to 400 orders a day, Thursdays through Sundays.
As word got out about the tacos, customers requested vegetarian and non-beef options, candy and refrescas such as horchata and agua de Jamaica, a hibiscus-based beverage. The quality of the offerings matched and exceeded plates from bricks-and-mortar restaurants. Soon, photos of the well-packed, colorful plates of tacos, quesadillas and pizza circulated on social media, encouraging customers from all over the Triad to drive to the Lopez’s Southside home for a taste.
Last week, Triad City Beat published a story about the taco house which was met with enthusiasm from the family. Since then, dozens of cars have lined the narrow streets and intersections near the house, making it difficult for neighbors to turn a blind eye and for customers to be able to order. According to Lopez, a neighbor called Winston-Salem’s City Link Line to report the nuisance. Then on March 26, a city official and an inspector visited the home to tell them they had to shut down operations but left no written citation or business card for follow-up information.
According to an incident report associated with the home’s address, a 311 call was made about their food business for “violation of city/county ordinance.” The bottom of the report states that the case is “inactive.”
North Carolina does not have cottage food laws, which allow a person to legally bake and prepare certain foods in their home kitchens and sell them on a small scale, but there are individuals operating undocumented food enterprises out of their homes under the radar and even more operating as private supper clubs. These supper clubs have public social-media accounts, followings and websites too. The only difference? The menus are not published with prices. Any monetary connection to the food being served uses coded language such as “suggested donations” with a dollar amount attached. Popular fine dining restaurant Machete in Greensboro operated as a private supper club for two years before opening up in the LoFi neighborhood in the former Crafted, Art of Street Food space.
Like many families during the pandemic, the Lopez family was hit hard. Both of Lopez’s parents lost their jobs. They almost lost their house. They were behind on water and electricity bills; everything seemed to be falling apart. Leydi was working double shifts seven days a week as the sole breadwinner of the household. They had to do something. Lopez’s mother had a little money saved, so one weekend they purchased ingredients and started their at-home business.
“We love cooking; we always cook together,” Lopez says. “I love it, my brother loves it, my dad loves it, my mom loves it. It’s something we’re passionate about.”
Both women’s faces light up when the conversation steers toward the work they put in to ensure quality food gets delivered to customers.
The entire family helps out. Her father wakes up at 5 a.m., careful to not disturb the other family members, cooks and cools the beef down before the real prep begins. Lopez’s three brothers help take orders, prep the Styrofoam containers and expedite the food.
Lopez takes on the task of chopping onions, cilantro and radish, and begins on the salsa and guacamole, which accompanies the birria-style pizza. In the evening, the chiles for the broth and the birria beef are boiled and cooled down so all her father has to do is prepare it.
“We take turns on the grill,” Lopez said. “But none of us get to eat until the end of the day.”
When news of the shutdown of the taqueria became public knowledge, Liz Reymundo, a childhood friend of Lopez, started a GoFundMe for the family. She took the opportunity to started an online fundraiser because she wants to help her friend accomplish her dreams.
“She started this business to help her family through hard times,” says Reymundo. “Just like me, she’s the firstborn from an immigrant family. I’ve seen her helping her mother from a small thing like translating documents to helping to pay the bills. She prides herself on putting her family first and above everything else.”
Lopez says she’s wanted to open a food truck or a restaurant for a long time.
”We give what we would like to have,” says Lopez.
To learn more about the GoFundMe, visit here.
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