Michelle Dettloff and Michelle Jones, the owners of the Riverwest-based business Mamasita's Tamales, make between 400 and 500 tamales every week. Knowledge of this leads to the obvious question, "Do they ever get sick of the process?"
"We get sick of eating them, but, surprisingly, not of making them," says Dettloff.
Jones and Dettloff -- who are friends and housemates -- started in the food industry together at the Riverwest Co-op. Dettloff was the manager and Jones worked there as a cook. Also, the two women created a popular, ongoing food event called Subrosa, that featured temporary, underground restaurants in various Riverwest houses and backyards.
One of the Subrosa events offered tamales, and the food item was so popular with the event attendees that the women decided to make more.
"For a while, we sold our tamales to friends and families, but we kept running out, and so we kept going," says Jones.
Most of the recipes have been invented by Jones and Dettloff. They credit the book "Tamales 101" for their recipe for masa, a corn-based dough that is used as tamale filling. However, most of their recipes are combinations of multiple recipes or personal creations.
Both of the women were accustomed to winging in the kitchen -- basically making up recipes as they go -- so the process of writing down ingredients to use for future batches was something to get used to.
Tamales are a traditional Latin American dish made of masa and a mix of cheese, vegetables and sometimes meat. (All of Mamasita's tamales, however, are vegetarian or vegan.) Tamales are steamed or boiled in a leaf wrapper, which is discarded before eating.
Mamasita's Tamales come in many different flavors, including black bean plantain, cashew coconut curry, black bean fiesta, roasted veggie and tofu, sweet potato pinto, jalapeno corn cheese, poblano pinto cheese, three pepper cheese, spinach mushroom chipotle and Greek. They also, occasionally, offer dessert tamales like banana walnut or pumpkin apple.
"We like to make tamales with seasonal ingredients when we can," says Dettloff.
Mamasita's Tamales are partially organic, and most of the ingredients come from local farmers' markets, the Simple Soyman and El Rey grocery stores. The tamales are all vegetarian -- soy margarine is used instead of the traditional lard -- and any without cheese are vegan.
The tamales are available at Beans & Barley, Outpost Natural Foods and the Riverwest Co-op, and cost $7.95 for a four pack. The Riverwest Co-op offers a Mamasita's Tamales Night every Thursday.
Mamasita's also caters weddings, parties and banquets, and the tamales are available at many street festivals, including Locust Street Festival, Center Street Daze, the Bay View Bash, Made In Milwaukee and more.
Dettloff and Jones rent out the kitchen at Centro, 808 E. Center St., every Monday to assemble the tamales. They usually hire random workers for the day to help out.
"It's a motley crew of unemployed people," says Dettloff.
The tamale-making process is labor intensive so an "assembly line" of helpers is the most time efficient. The process features multiple steps: scooping the masa into the husk, spreading the masa and the other ingredients, rolling and, finally, tying the husk closed with a thin strip of husk.
In the future, the women hope to expand the business, but for now, because of other work and personal demands, they are satisfied with the size of the endeavor.
"This keeps my interest and I still think it's fun," says Dettloff. "But for now, it's good where we are."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.