When newcomers Hugo Rivera and Suzanne Santos, owners of Juan More Tamale, first offered their classic and uncommon tamales at Soulard Market Nov. 22, the reception was as warm as the weather was chilly.
“We sold out by one o’clock,” Santos says.
The pair had on offer nearly 400 tamales to the market – and some very unusual flavors. “We brought one of our standards, the cheese and jalapeno tamale with a white queso sauce, and we added two holiday flavors, the turkey and dressing tamales with cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie tamales with pumpkin sauce,” says Santos, adding, “Next Saturday, we’ll double our production.”
Cheese and jalapenos doesn’t seem like a stretch, and sweet tamales have been around for a while, so a pumpkin pie flavor makes some sense. But turkey and dressing? In a tamale?
“When we made test samples for friends and family, one of our tasters said ‘With a little bit of sage this would taste just like turkey and dressing.’ So we tried it, adding sage to the masa and little bits of onion, celery and turkey until we got the flavor balance we liked,” Santos says. “Tamales normally don’t come with sauce, but I’ve always made sauces for mine, so we added a cranberry sauce for a complete Thanksgiving taste.”
For this Saturday, Nov. 29, Juan More Tamale will offer three of four regular selections. In addition to the popular cheese and jalapeno selection, look for chicken tinga tamales and tamales with a chorizo and potato mix. Apple pie with cinnamon tamales round out the menu. They’ll also have vanilla atole, a hot drink based on corn and masa that’s traditionally served with tamales over the holidays.
Rivera and Santos may be new to the market, but their Mexican culinary roots run deep. The two met through Rivera’s cousin Marta Ramirez, a friend of Santos’ from the culinary school at SouthwesternIllinoisCollege in Belleville. After graduation, Santos worked for Ramirez at the second Arcelia’s Mexicana Restaurant in Soulard.
Casual conversations about food and business heated up when Santos and Rivera decided to make and sell cool Mexican paletas. They ordered a machine to make them in June 2014. Next, they rented a space in the STLVentureWorks-GrandCenter business incubator and prepared to make the frozen treats. While delivery setbacks on the paleta machine put the brakes on summer sales, the energetic pair decided to test tamales for the fall and winter markets.
“Tamales. We’ve always made tamales. They’re warm and filling, a food for the holidays,” Santos says. “We started experimenting.”
The experiments spawned Juan More Taco, which plans to offer tamales every Saturday at Soulard Market.
They don’t yet have a regular spot, so you may need to wander the market to find them. Go early. Opening weekend most sales were for single tamales with sauce that people ate at the market. But if you visit their website and order tamales on Sunday, you can pick them up at Soulard the following Saturday. You can also call in your order.
Be of good cheer, people. The partners have been taking holiday orders for just over a week. “We’ve got orders out through Super Bowl Sunday,” Santos says. “People are ordering dozens, but we’ve also had several orders for a hundred tamales. I would say order early at this point.”
Point taken. Stop by for a taste and take home a treat. Come spring, they’ll have those paletas, too.
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