Blocks from Local Pig, inside a nondescript warehouse located along a curving road, KCMEX Tortilleria has garnered nearly a dozen commercial clients in less than a month of operation. While perfecting their tortilla-making operation, owners Mark and Marissa Gencarelli have welcomed a new baby, too.
The massive warehouse space offers plenty of room for growth, and; Mark already works here full-time. Customers include Port Fonda; owner Patrick Ryan was so impressed with the quality of KCMEX's tortillas that he has requested daily deliveries and will use them during his upcoming Hatch Chile Festival. The Gencarellis hope to offer retail sales within three to six months.
In 2001, Mark, a Kansas City native and then a University of Kansas junior, signed on for a semester in Italy through the University of Arizona. Marissa Tapia Burr, a Ciudad Obregón, Mexico, native and University of Arizona sophomore, entered the same program. Joining a very small student group in the wake of 9/11, Mark and Marissa met in Florence and spent their small budgets eating and drinking together.
When Mark graduated from KU, he moved to Tucson. “We used to go to Obregón about every other weekend and also traveled to Mexico City,” Marissa says. The couple married in 2004, and began to work on KCMEX about two years ago while working corporate jobs. Mark is the "KC" part of the name while Marissa is "MEX."
The Gencarellis follow an artisan method for transforming corn into fresh tortillas, steeping kernels for several hours before rinsing and then grinding them between chiseled stones. “We cook our corn with lime, which loosens the outer layer of the dent corn,” Mark says. “We get the wet grind as fine as possible, and have to chisel the stone from time to time.”
“Moisture is a huge factor in making fluffy tortillas,” Marissa says, as she shapes wet ground corn into a ball before flattening it with two fingers. “This allows you to check the grind.”
The Gencarellis trained over three long weekends in L.A. with Guillermo Campbell of Campbell Machine Shop working beside them from 3am to noon each day. Today, their three-layer oven creates about 250 dozen tortillas per hour. In addition, they source white, blue, red and yellow, non-GMO and organic corn from two Midwest suppliers.
“You have to have the right temperature in the oven, and you want them to ‘puff,’” Marissa says. She hands over a cooling tortilla from the line. “These are so light and soft, and you can see the specks of corn.” With no salt added, the tortillas are packed with fresh corn flavor. “We also fold [the tortillas] eight ways to see if it will break,” she says, as she and Mark deftly pack dozens of fresh tortillas into small plastic bags.
So how do the Gencarellis prepare tortillas at home? Marissa heats them quickly, in an iron skillet and keeps them in the refrigerator for seven to 10 days.
KCMEX Tortilleria, 2828 Guinotte Ave., East Bottoms, Kansas City, Missouri, 913.948.1980, facebook.com/KCMEXTortilleria/