Bienvenidos a Mexican Dining Week on OnMilwaukee.com. This week, in honor of Cinco de Mayo, we're spicing things up with daily articles about Mexican restaurants, foods, drinks, sweets and more. Enjoy a week of sizzling stories that will leave you craving Milwaukee's Latin offerings. Olé!
When Daniel Chairez decided he wanted to open a tortilla business, he didn't fool around. Chairez, a Mexican-American who was born and raised in Milwaukee, went to Texas to train with professional tortilla makers where he perfected his recipe and his craft.
He returned to Milwaukee in 2009 and opened Tortilleria El Sol, a small shop at 3458 S. 13th St. that sells fresh, white corn tortillas that are still warm upon purchase. He also sells homemade tortilla chips, tostadas, salsa (made by his mother) and a variety of snacks and grocery items that supplement Mexican food recipes such as peppers, hot sauces, beans, oils, spices, canned fish and more.
"There's nobody else in the city doing what we're doing," says Chairez, who operates the business with multiple other family members, including his father and his brother. "Business is going very well."
El Sol has corporate accounts with Bel Air Cantina, 1935 N. Water St., Harbor House, 550 N. Harbor Dr., Cafe Calatrava inside the Milwaukee Art Museum and COA, 5750 N. Port Washington Rd. So far, Chairez says all of his accounts have come word of mouth and without advertising.
"Nothing here is more than a day old, ever," he says. "When we make deliveries, the tortillas are only 1-2 hours old."
Prior to opening El Sol, Chairez purchased a "maquina tortillera" from Mexico.
"This is a traditional Mexican tortilla machine," he says.
The machine, which takes at least two people to operate, makes about 3,000 tortillas an hour. Chairez runs the machine every day, with help from workers. He has a second machine that they hope to use, someday, to make flour tortillas, as well.
During a recent visit, we witnessed the machine in action. It turns massive amounts of chunky dough into flat, six-inch tortillas with the help of 30 burners and a conveyor belt.
El Sol's tortillas are made with very few preservatives and they are always sold fresh. They are kept warm in insulated "coolers."
Currently, Chairez, who is 31 and graduated from Pulaski High School, is working on having a web site created. He also recently created new packaging for the tortillas with an eye-catching sun logo on the front. Currently, they are sold in clear plastic wrap.
Soon, Chairez says he plans to sell his tortillas in larger grocery stores. For now, he stocks them in three smaller, neighborhood food shops.
In order to expand his business and sell his tortillas on a larger scale, Chairez has to perfect his cooling process. Because the tortillas are always sold very warm, and have very few preservatives, they tend to stick together when they sit for too long.
Chairez says he is working on a cooling system he thinks will solve the issue and enable the sale of his tortillas in numerous new locations in the near future.
The tortillas sell for 89 cents a pound, which is about 16 tortillas. Customers however, stop in and buy however many they want, from just a couple to many pounds, and can pre-order tortillas in a smaller size if they prefer. Private parties are a large aspect of the business.
It is common for Tortilleria El Sol to fill orders from 40 to 100 pounds for private events such as family gatherings, birthday parties and quinceañeras (a 15-year-old girl's coming of age celebration in Mexican culture).
"There is not an order that's too small or too big. Someone can walk in, ask for three tortillas, and that's fine," he says. "But most of our orders are much larger."
Molly Snyder grew up on Milwaukee's East Side and today, she lives in the Walker's Point neighborhood with her partner and two sons.
As a full time senior writer, editorial manager and self-described experience junkie, Molly has written thousands of articles about Milwaukee (and a few about New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, Boston and various vacation spots in Wisconsin) that range in subject from where to get the best cup of coffee to an in-depth profile on the survivors of the iconic Norman apartment building that burned down in the '90s.
She also once got a colonic just to report on it, but that's enough on that.
Always told she had a "radio voice," Molly found herself as a regular contributor on FM102, 97WMYX and 1130WISN with her childhood radio favorite, Gene Mueller.
Molly's poetry, essays and articles appeared in many publications including USA Today, The Writer, The Sun Magazine and more. She has a collection of poetry, "Topless," and is slowly writing a memoir.
In 2009, Molly won a Milwaukee Press Club Award. She served as the Narrator / writer-in-residence at the Pfister Hotel from 2013-2014. She is also a story slam-winning storyteller who has performed with The Moth, Ex Fabula and Risk!
When she's not writing, interviewing or mom-ing, Molly teaches tarot card classes, gardens, sits in bars drinking Miller products and dreams of being in a punk band again.