Kansas Citians should get ready for a bold taste of culture, Marissa Gencarelli said, teasing the release of a new mini publication inspired by her rapidly scaling business and its mission to bring a bit of authentic Mexico to the metro.
“I posted a picture on Instagram and someone [asked] me if I had ever thought of doing a zine with my recipes,” recalled Gencarelli, co-founder of Yoli Tortilleria in Kansas City’s Westside neighborhood.
“I filed that idea away and one night over tequila sipping, I poured over what a zine from a Yoli perspective would look like … the ‘Eat Yoli Zine’ series was born.”
Gencarelli hopes to publish a total of 10 zines in the series, she added, detailing what readers should expect from the project in coming years.
“Each [zine] has a very specific topic surrounding food. Some will be ingredient focused and others about a Mexican region that we would like to make an homage to,” explained Gencarelli, who recently went full-time with Yoli to pursue the zine and other Yoli-related ventures.
“You can expect personal anecdotes, history, art, travel, economics and politics — all things where food plays a transformative role in people lives,” she said, adding readers will find illustrations from Frank Norton, local creative, designer, and artist, as well as photos snapped by Daniel Zaid and Sebastian Valdez, a pair of locals originally — like Gencarelli herself — from Sonora, Mexico.
“This is a project that is fueled by my passion of sharing the Mexican identity and our delicious food. Yoli’s mission is for people to experience Mexican cuisine with a different lens. We are dedicated to promoting Mexico’s rich diversity and our hope is that this is another medium that people can enjoy our love for Mexico.”
‘One brick at a time’
Proof of impact in its mission, Gencarelli’s Kansas City neighbors continue to flock to Yoli’s flagship tortilla factory and education center in the Westside.
“We’ve had over 60 percent growth,” she said, reflecting on the COVID era and what it meant for the business which works closely with local restaurants and retailers hit hard by the pandemic.
“Our restaurants that had slowed down due to the pandemic have come back swinging. I’m excited about so many things. … I’m always thinking about our BHAG — big hairy audacious goal — and it just makes me so excited to see it coming together one brick at a time.”
As the business scales further, Gencarelli will have more time to focus on such goals, having recently stepped away from her full-time role as general manager of healtheathlete and strategic growth at Cerner — a company with which she spent 16 years.
“It has been a cathartic process. My family said I looked more relaxed,” she joked, recalling the company’s impact on her life and mentorship she received from its co-founder, Cliff Illig.
“While it could not be a better time given our Yoli growth, I still wake up a little weirded out that all I have to do in a day’s work is to focus on Yoli. That is a very strange feeling, but I’m fully embracing it.”
‘Can you get a better mentor?’
Prioritization got Gencarelli through the side-hustle phase of business building, she said, paving the way for her to join her husband, Mark, at Yoli on a full-time basis.
“I’m a big believer in looking at the big picture and narrowing it down to [the] key things you need to accomplish, then narrowing that list again and again,” she explained, noting it was Illig who first introduced her to the strategy.
“Can you get a better mentor than that? He taught me a lot about prioritization, experience making, the importance of design [and] strategic thinking and how to build a winning team,” Gencarelli said, crediting additional mentors, Jeff Townsend, former chief innovation officer at Cerner, and Joanne Burns, former COO and chief strategy officer at Cerner, with rounding out her entrepreneurial toolkit and preparing her to turn her dream into a profitable business.
“Jeff Townsend taught me about disruptive innovation and I worked with him closely on shaping healthcare culture via built environments. Then Joanne Burns taught me about work and life balance and practical and actionable ways to work on my career growth,” she said.
“I’m forever in debt to them as they shaped me straight out of college. I apply their thought process and strategy at Yoli every day.”
Such expertise has manifested itself in a business with lines out the door and community influence that’s left Gencarelli overwhelmed with gratitude and more passionate about Yoli’s mission than ever before.
“We are [striving to transform] how you experience Mexican cuisine and we will continue to grow where and how to achieve it,” she said, noting that if the business is to meet its primary goal it will take investment in scalability, a rockstar team, and continued delivery of high quality products that leave customers hungry for more.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.