Author Archives: Pepe Urquijo

About Pepe Urquijo

MFA Graduate 2011 School of Visual Arts Social Documentary Program

SF Mission Burros 4 B’klyn

Like most folks who trade the sunny skies and warm weather of the west coast for the cold of NYC in the winter, we love it out here.  But as much as we love it, we deeply miss our Mexican food like we miss the sun.  We adjust though and sometimes we have to give into the Chinese Cal-Mex, Tex-Mex, Chek-Mex joints, especially if it’s late at night.  Some of those places aren’t bad but at some (and after a few bites) you feel even further away from home with a plastic packet of hot sauce that’s loaded with vinegar.  It’s sad but we adjust.

Now I’m the furthest thing from a foodie, heck I can’t even name all the celebrity judges on Iron Chef and Chopped, I don’t even have cable.  But a couple of years ago I started taking note of some empty shops in my neighborhood and at the same time I realized that in terms of eating anything past 10pm (which you should never do!) the only options are Chinese and Crowns Fried Chicken.  As delicious as fries with fried rice can be and hit the spot, after a while you kinda want something else.  So I started talking with folks in the neighborhood about burritos and tacos and what places they frequent.  The conversations were fascinating.  It became obvious to me that a late night Mexican taqueria in this part of the borough could work.  What I didn’t know was what it would take to open up a taqueria?  So I took a business class and that question became: what would be my differential advantage from all the other businesses selling Mexican?  It hit me then; nobody’s really offering original San Francisco Mission District burritos.  Why not?  They’re world famous!  Or so I thought, the truth is they aren’t.  Not yet.

Sing Hua Kitchen, free pub!

Sing Hua Kitchen, free pub!

Where’d the burrito come from?  Officially, it’s still debated, people say Texas, others say Arizona, and some even say France (bistro… burrito…) I still don’t get that one.  The truth is we’ll never really know.  But what most people will agree is that San Francisco is where the burrito was mastered and perfected.  What’s so special about that place?  Well, apart from being a cool place with cool people, the Mexican migration to those parts has a much longer running history (don’t forget Cali once was Mexico) than the Mexican migration to New York.  The generations of folks who have been making burritos in SF dates back to the 50’s and 60’s and most of these folks came from the central and northern parts of the Mexico.  The large numbers of Mexicans who migrated and are living in NYC come from the southern parts of Mexico with the state of Puebla being the most common.  This is why there is an abundance of great places to get mole all over NY (mole is a standard dish from Puebla).  Sadly, at many of these places they sell burritos but they’re served without tinfoil.  WTF!?  (Without Tin Foil!?)

Tinfoil is a burritos birthright and a San Francisco tradition.  A burrito brought into this world without tinfoil is an impostor.  It’s not just for looks; it has a purpose, primarily to keep the tortilla and its contents warm.  An evenly and tightly wrapped burrito in tinfoil keeps the integrity of the burrito in place so that as you enjoy each bite, you can savor all of the ingredients.  The tinfoil works with you too as you unwrap it section by section until you triumphantly get to the end.  In all the years I’ve been in Brooklyn, I’ve only received two burritos that were ever wrapped in tinfoil.  One was given to me because the young lady thought I was taking my food to go and the other was the shape of a burger.

It wasn't as bad as it looks and it looks real bad.

It wasn’t as bad as it looks and it looks real bad.

A deep sadness always falls over me when I see a burrito served to someone naked with no tinfoil; I get über depressed when I see someone have to eat a burrito with a fork and knife.  It’s not their fault I think to myself and then I wondered how could people learn the right best way to enjoy a properly made burrito.  I decided I’d have to show them myself.

As a trained documentarian (with an awesome MFA from SVA), I began putting pieces together and remembering your story is only as good as your access.  With that in mind I set out to find taqueros (burrito/taco chefs) who’d be interested in coming to NYC to build a taqueria with me.  Now you may be thinking, “Why bring someone all the way to NY?  Just find a Mexican dude in NY who can cook.”  Although in theory that sounds reasonable, and statistics do show that the Mexican population is the fastest growing amongst Latino’s here in New York, but frankly to me, this is the equivalent of casting someone to be your best friend.  Sure it may be fun for a while and you might actually have a good time but ultimately it wouldn’t be real or the same.  An original SF burrito is like no other and requires just the appropriate ingredients, just the right portions and just the right wrapping in tinfoil.  It’s something that even your best friend couldn’t duplicate, unless he’s a taquero.

Finding this taquero of fortune was starting to seem like just a well-intentioned great idea, nothing else.  My burrito/taqueria dream was slowly unwrapping.  From my apartment in Brooklyn I had to find someone across the country willing to come to NY with a minimum of 5-10 years experience as a taquero, and also be open to the idea of starting a taqueria from scratch?  It was like looking for a baby needle in a warehouse of haystacks.  But like a faithful burro (mule), I had to give it one last try.  I enlisted the help of family and friends; I created a flyer and my buddy Darren put them up in practically all the Mission District laundromats.  Thanks again dude!


Are you a Taquero?

I got phone calls from guys with no experience looking for a job and I even got messages that I still can’t decipher, #drunkdialers.  Then one day, a gentleman called me who said he had over 15 years experience working at a taqueria and was interested learning more.  Hmmmm.  He said his name was Felix and he’d be willing to come to NY because he has family out here and a grandchild he’s never met.  This was sounding too good to be true?  Thankfully some taqueros I know vouched for Felix and he received ringing endorsements.  Step one of the dream was in place.  All I needed was to see how good and original his food was and how well we worked together.  So while stranded in San Francisco due to Superstorm Sandy, a buddy loaned us a kitchen for the afternoon and we set up shop from scratch and cooked up a storm in a mere two hours.

Getting chopped!

Getting chopped!

He made everything from salsa’s to everything you see on the website.  I was impressed at his efficiency and focus.  He was no joke, in fact at one point, as he was sharpening his knife with that cylindrical thing, he looked at me and said, “This is what I do everyday man, what’d you expect? (laughing)”  I saw all that I needed to, I now knew this was going to work.

I needed to create a business proposal plan.  So I took two community business courses, one at 3rd Ward w Bob Gardener, and the most recent one, a 16wk workshop at WIBO (Workshop In Business
Opportunities) with Ashayla Patterson and Diallo Rafikike. They and our lively class challenged and answered all of my questions and never stopped asking me to bring a “damn” burrito sample.  I guess I talked it up too much.  The bottom line with these courses is simple; you get out what you put in.  And much like creating a film, the ultimate goal in starting your business should be to open up/premiere and share.  We will begin sharing our work in just under a couple of weeks, hope to see you there.

Vintage B'klyn Burro throwback

Vintage B’klyn Burro throwback

Last, this Thursday, Feb 07th,  I graduate/receive my certificate of completion from my WIBO course, I will be selling T-Shirts plus chips and salsa.  The place will be packed with all types of entrepreneurs; it’s going to be better than a shrimp and carnitas burrito with black beans and cheese!”  Please come thru.

Date: Thursday, February 7, 2013
Time: 5pm Business Expo, 7pm Ceremony
Location: St. Francis College in Downtown Brooklyn