CHRIS BATTAGLIA

Thoughts

Guatemala: Tacorazon

 Karen (left) and Eva (right) greeting and informing new customers to Tacorazon for dinner.

Karen (left) and Eva (right) greeting and informing new customers to Tacorazon for dinner.

First day in the shop. Jesse has cultivated a team of four employees, pays them a living wage higher than the minimum in Guatemala, and employs a waterfall-style schedule to allow varying weeks of opening, swing, and closing shifts for each employee.

We begin our days with coffee from the local roaster who buys beans from a cooperative of organic and fair trade coffee farms. Currently on pour is a pound of beans from Huehuetenango that is pleasantly fruity and strong-bodied, complex and that type of acidity that drinks sweetly - I am thinking grapefruit or tangerine-like - with a floral finish almost like a black tea. If you ever have a chance to ask a knowledgeable roaster or barista about their Guatemalan coffee, hope that is from Huehue (pr. way-way).

 Simone and Jesse and  desayuno tipico  (typical breakfast). Simply black beans, eggs, and tortillas.

Simone and Jesse and desayuno tipico (typical breakfast). Simply black beans, eggs, and tortillas.

The streets are congested, narrow. Sidewalks (if present) fit exactly the walking width of one person, and walking in single-file becomes the norm. Diesel exhaust seem to take up nearly 50% of the air you breath, Jesse explains, because there are not automobile inspections required in Guatemala.

Upon return to a country I visited/worked twice in twelve months back in 2012, I am reminded how little acknowledgement or emphasis there is on brand or luxury items. The coffee is incredible, but the Oster drip coffee maker from 25 years ago will do. All of the cars, vans, and trucks are third tier - I'm sure by American standards - like Isuzu, Mitsubishi, Hyundai, Datsun, and other varieties I've not seen before. But they get the job done.

Most of the buildings are cement or cinder block construction. Many of the homes here in Xela are built side-by-side, with no space between walls. In fact, most buildings run into one another, distinguished only by the paint color, or door style out front. Metal rebar shoots outward from the tops of most of these single-level buildings, electrical wires and telephone lines are low-lying and obstruct a lot of one's sightline from ground level.

From the passenger seat, I observe motorcycle and automobile drivers, appearing reckless, but they are being efficient. Everyone is aware of one another. There appears to be a common understanding that everyone will drive with self-preservation in mind, yet, simultaneously, without interfering with anyone else. This manifests in driving in middle of highways, absence of turning signals, and lots of weaving between vehicles without pause.

Yesterday, we went to a bakery that has been around for two years, serving GF options. I like that this exists, and although I've been indulging in pan dulce (sweet breads, usually offered after a meal or for breakfast with coffee), the contemporary addition to this town feels welcome.

[In the future, wouldn't it be great if people like myself continue to have issues with wheat, that a food shop's entire offering were GF, but there was no marketing language to differentiate it? That you had to just know it was a place that didn't use wheat? Just a thought. Among things I hate, inclusive of SnapChat and cats, is the use of a dietary restriction/descriptor as marketing point. It caters to the fakers, and often unjustly inflates prices.]

Tacorazon is nestled in the corner building of Xela's Parque Central. Adjacent to Jesse's taco shop on one side is a restaurant that burned down; on the other, a variety shop called Foto Lab. There is a tree, whose expanse used to shroud any view of the shop, that has since been trimmed and offers something of a decent view.

 Tacorazon, from above, where the yellow building's and white building's corners meet.

Tacorazon, from above, where the yellow building's and white building's corners meet.

There is good flow to the restaurant. It is fast-casual, and boasts a sensible layout for this type of eatery. You walk in, are met by a small bar-top, four-top table, and then must turn right to proceed deeper. Another bartop hugs the left wall, above which hang two large blackboards housing local artist's work for a month. Passing by two high-tops, you descend two steps and the space opens to the heart of the restaurant. Menus hang above, guiding you through the three items on the menu: three taco plate, burrito, or burrito bowls. These are Q40 (Guatemalan Quetzal, right now $5.29 to Q1) for each meal, which includes a drink and as many toppings as you want. The food is colorful and fantastic.

The best parts of every meal at Tacorazon are the fresh, organic toppings that come straight from the farm. Two days ago, we were standing among rows of one farmer's cilantro, and yesterday were eating what was picked and delivered earlier that day. The same goes for Marta's tomatoes, or another farmer's onions (they come from various farms, depending).

It's a great shop, and we've been diving into filming/shooting details and big-picture items. We will embark again on another full day at the shop, but I'm excited what this place is doing. Imagine a place that replaces McDonald's or Pollo Campero (the fast-food fried chicken place) - both which cater to the Middle Class. These are places people save up money to dine at, like a real restaurant. If Jesse can create a model for Tacorazon that drives local business, farming, conscious consumption within multiple communities, and scale that larger than this one store, the country will probably be eating a lot better, every day.

 View over Quetzaltenango (Xela), at sundown.

View over Quetzaltenango (Xela), at sundown.