A new retail operation in Kansas City’s Westside neighborhood is a sign of massive growth, hot on the griddle for Yoli Tortilleria.
“There’s nothing, for me, better than once you put that warm tortilla in your hands and just experience it,” said Marissa Gencarelli, who co-owns and operates Yoli with her husband, Mark. “There’s a whole human touch to it that we wanted to bring to people.”
The three-year-old brand — newly nestled on the corner of 17th and Jefferson streets and open just two weeks — outgrew its original production facility in the East Bottoms, which now focuses on corn tortillas. It’s new, additional space offers the opportunity to not only showcase the savory staple, but use the company’s rich Sonoran roots to inspire a new sense of authenticity and community in KCMO.
“Sometimes we see people putting a tortilla under their mask and then getting a big smile,” Gencarelli said. “They’re thinking in their mind how they’re going to prepare dinner for that night based on the tortillas that they’re getting.”
Click here to shop Yoli products online or to find out more about the retail space.
Eager to explore Yoli’s flour tortilla-making process from stools at the retail space’s viewing counter, customers can hungrily browse shelves of authentic salsa and merchandise.
The experience is, in part, a callback to Gencarelli’s hometown in Sonora, Mexico, where “most Mexican places and tortillerias, for some reason, always land in a tiny little corner,” she said.
“We [also] love walking into the Roasterie and taking those tours. I think that’s such a great experience — and we wanted a similar experience, where you could come in and just simply get the whiff of the scent of freshly baked tortillas,” Gencarelli added, referencing the iconic Kansas City coffee roasting company and its thematic experience which plays heavily on air travel.
Hop a flight to Sonora and you’ll find a one-of-a-kind culinary experience the duo hope to see Kansas City embrace the same way they did, she said.
“[The totilleria] in my particular hometown, they just hand you a warm tortilla as soon as you get in. And so, we envisioned that experience,” Gencarelli explained, recalling the fond memory that’s now localized as customers begin to pile into the shop — six feet at a time.
Discovering the perfect tortilla
The ability to offer an experience — which annually includes tamales in the fall and will soon see the launch of authentic Mexican cold brew — comes as a byproduct of Yoli’s wild success in the East Bottoms, Gencarelli said.
There the couple scaled the business through partnerships with local restaurants and grocers, she added.
“The first [customer] that we had was Patrick Ryan from Port Fonda. He came to us and he really wanted to see all of our processes and he got so excited that he converted his whole restaurant to our tortillas within weeks. He was pretty much our first evangelist in town,” Gencarelli recalled, noting Ryan’s quest to find the perfect tortilla resonated with her.
“[In our travels,] I was always making sure that Mark knew every single state from Mexico. When we would come back, it was always like, ‘Oh, gosh, I wish there was a better tortilla to go ahead and make everything we like,’” she said of the thought that ultimately launched Yoli.
Gencarelli didn’t expect that more than 50 restaurants across the metro also shared her and Ryan’s desire.
“What we’re really after is to transform how modern Mexican food is seen and I think that there’s a lot of wiggle room to improve there,” she said, detailing Yoli’s stoneground, handmade tortilla-making process that’s landed the company press, praise, and prestige within the rising, local culinary community.
“It’s a very important ingredient that a lot of people kind of dismiss as just a plate, but it really should enhance the whole experience of what you’re eating,” Gencarelli said of the critical role the tortilla plays in any traditional Mexcian meal.
“It should hold up whatever you’re eating,” she said. “If you’re eating carnitas, barbacoa, it should really hold up those juices.”
Such a commitment to authenticity in cooking is what Gencarelli hopes will keep Yoli on the taste buds of Kansas Citians — and maybe, someday, the world — for decades to come, she said.
“The trend keeps continuing to grow. We believe that it’s the right path. …We start our morning’s everyday between 3:30 and 4 a.m. We have our coffee and our business meeting pow wows,” she said of the couple’s commitment to the business and growing it in a way that remains true to its original mission to foster community through food.
“We know we can’t do this alone and hiring the right people has become a priority,” Gencarelli added. “People is really how we do this.”