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Sazón Kitchen and Maíz

Industry "babies" seem like pros

While their path to restaurant ownership may be atypical, their embrace of the industry is whole-hearted. Aldo Góngora, Martha and Roxanne "Chef Vico" Martin met in restaurant management school in Baja California, Mexico. "We spent 3-1/2 years learning gastronomy," explains Aldo. "I was 30 while in school; Martha and Roxanne are sisters and Roxanne was a few years ahead of us." Aldo and Martha married in May 2017.

Maíz team

"I wanted to experience the world," recalls Aldo. "I spent a few months in the Ventura area of California, then came to the Northwest in 2000 to stay with a cousin. I fell in love with the area and stayed. I have a paint contracting business but always had it in my heart to cook and serve people. I would make menus while painting." Their families cooked a lot. "The whole family ate homemade meals together at the table. My family had a ranch in the Sierra de Juarez near Baja and we spent whole summers there. We'd go to the city and get a load of provisions, then cook them on a woodstove. We watched family members butcher the cows and make barbacoa. We'd pick and eat pine nuts, make cheese; it's all about these kind of memories. My mom raised me and my sister on her own and my aunt babysat and took care of us while mom was making ends meet. My aunt inspired me to get into the hospitality industry."

Aldo and Martha bought a food truck in May 2019. "I had been searching online how to get involved with events and took an opportunity when it came up. We did Hempfest for a couple of years, as well as Bumbershoot and Bite of Seattle. Before I was even in the food business, I got on a wait list for a space at Pike Place Farmers Market. I always dreamed of being a vendor there."

Besides events, the food truck didn't see the anticipated action. Their vision was to go into a gas station on Maple Valley Highway. The infrastructure wasn't there, and they knew it would take time/work to move the truck in and out. They started looking around and found a place in Ballard. Yet they would still have to move the truck every night. "It's 30 feet long, we didn't want to do it. We heard about a place on 15 th where a guy had a gyros place. We asked if we could park the truck there, but the owner said no." They changed their approach and asked if they could take over his restaurant. He said yes. At one time, the location had been a car rental spot with a high fence. They changed the fence, fixed up the patio, cleaned. "We were just looking for a parking space and ended up with a restaurant! We opened in May: the 10th was Mexico's Mother's Day, and the 12th was U.S. Mother's Day. We were so busy!

Maíz wall mural

"Roxanne's cooking inspired me to open a breakfast restaurant. She had been cooking breakfast and brunch in Mexico. The three of us created the menu. We wanted to bring the food we grew up with to Seattle. There were two towns in Baja near us that were 'trucker towns' that served big breakfasts to truckers who drove through: eggs, machaca, beans, potatoes, tortillas. Baja also has access to fresh fish, cattle for good steaks, and maíz (corn), but not as much corn as the rest of Mexico. We're very proud of the tortillas we make. We've traveled through Mexico and miss the tortillas we had. I've always loved coffee and the idea that you can source different beans from various parts of the world and impact communities. The same is true for corn. We want to showcase our culture with what we make."

They served breakfast/brunch in the restaurant, and lunch from the taqueria truck. "During the pandemic, we merged them together," recalls Aldo. "We used the truck for events then." They were going to try dinner service but stopped when the pandemic slowed things down. The Sazón concept is about breakfast, brunch, and tacos.

In the summer of 2020, they opened a second Sazón on the top of Queen Anne. The location was going to be developed but it was a good test to see if the neighborhood was a fit. During the last few months they were open, they tried table service. After 2-1/2 years they closed but will use the space as a commissary kitchen until they have to vacate.

In 2021, Aldo heard from Pike Place Market about a vacancy. He had been on the list for 7-8 years! After an extensive selection process, they won the space (next to Starbucks in the former Mexican Grocery shop), going in as Maíz Antojitos & Tortilleria, which is more of a fonda with street food. They source from Mexico and it's expensive; they use non-GMO heirloom artisan-produced nixtamal corn. By trading with small scale farmers, the farmers can keep harvesting as many as 59 different registered varieties in Mexico and more in the U.S. When the Market location came up, it was the right place to focus on corn. You choose your filling, then the wrapping: sopes, gorditas, tamales, tacos.

Maíz mussels

Their newest location is in Belltown, Maíz Molino Antojitos & Tortilleria, which opened September 29. In Mexico, molinos are places where people bring their corn to grind and take home. They become community spaces. Along with the restaurant, Maíz produces masa. Lunch is the same as the Pike Place menu; dinner table service offers plated meals and a bar. You choose a menu item vs. choosing your filling and wrapping like the Market location. They take reservations and offer some seating for walk-ins. "It's our first time working with an elaborate menu, bar, and reservation system," says Aldo. "This location has high ceilings and open space. We painted and tiled it ourselves. Lately I've felt more like a contractor than a chef!"

Some other restaurants, including Sazón Kitchen, now carry Maíz tortillas for tacos, but they don't have enough production to supply them for chilaquiles yet. "We just use so many of them!" At some point, they'd love to sell to grocery stores. "That's a big deal, we'd have to deal with bigger working spaces, shelf time and delivery. We're babies in this industry and are still learning every day."

Connie Adams/October 2022

Sazón Kitchen
7301 15th Ave NW
Seattle, WA 98117

Maíz Antojitos & Tortilleria Molino
1914 Pike Place
Seattle, WA 98107

Maíz Antojitos & Tortilleria
2325 6th Ave
Seattle, WA 98121
206-402-6142                                   Maíz Pike Place

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