Elemi owner talks tacos, business opportunities, and more for Hispanic Heritage Month

El Paso News

In this image released by Hulu, Emiliano Marentes, left, owner of Elemi, appears in his kitchen as host Padma Lakshmi looks on, in a scene from “Taste the Nation,” a documentary series streaming on Hulu. (Dominic Valente/Hulu via AP)

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – A modern Mexican restaurant in downtown El Paso is elevating the ways the community — and the nation — think not only about tacos, but also the culinary traditions of the region that are being bolstered by efforts to empower Hispanic-owned businesses.

Elemi was established and owned by Emiliano and Kristal Marentes, who say the concept was born from inspiration from downtown El Paso and tortillerias in Juarez.

KTSM spoke with Emiliano, who says he goes in early each morning.

“I start grounding maize, corn for our tortillas and start setting up — and just work the business as the day comes,” he says.

Part of what makes the food so special at Elemi are the tortillas. Marentas uses a centuries-old process called nixtamalization, in which the corn is cooked, soaked, then ground into masa.

The care and attention to detail has been noticed by the likes of Padma Lakshmi, who featured Elemi and the Marenteses on the docu-series “Taste the Nation.”

Like other small businesses across the country, Elemi struggled during the pandemic.

Emiliano says that a grant, which is funded by The PepsiCo Foundation as part its IMPACTO Hispanic Business Accelerator, helped maintain the beloved business.

“I just decided to apply for it, not really knowing what was going to happen, and we were really fortunate to have been chosen,” he says.

PepsiCo’s multifaceted platform to help Hispanic-owned small businesses overcome the impacts of the pandemic called Juntos Crecemos (Together We Grow). The platform is a $50 million investment designed to assist Hispanic owned-businesses over the next five years that include restaurants, bodegas, and carnicerias. 

Juntos Crecemos offers mentoring, bespoke marketing support, access to capital, and operational assistance to enable immediate and sustainable innovations. 

“Juntos Crecemos and The PepsiCo Foundation IMPACTO Hispanic Business Accelerator bring our Racial Equality Journey and PepsiCo’s values to life,” said Esperanza Teasdale, Vice President and General Manager, Hispanic Business Unit, PepsiCo Beverages North America. “We’re proud and committed to supporting and elevating the voice of the Hispanic small business community that is impacted by systemic inequality.”

The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce reports that Hispanic-owned businesses contribute more than $800 billion in economic activity.

The pandemic caused catastrophic damage to Hispanic-owned businesses, with 86 percent reporting negative impacts that include total closures. 

According to a study from Stanford University, Hispanic business owners were half as likely to receive loans from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) than their white counterparts.

The economic devastation from the pandemic is compounding existing challenges for Hispanic business owners. The Small Business Association says that COVID-19 impacts have exacerbated lack of equity caused by existing factors like systemic barriers to wealth and educational attainment that are leading to smaller business income for Hispanic business owners.

Despite the challenges, Emiliano says that operating Elemi is as much about feeding his creative appetite than anything else. 

“I want to create something that’s more than just a business,” he says. “To us, if we don’t enjoy what we’re doing, then why would we do it?”

For more information on Hispanic Heritage Month, click here; for our complete coverage of food in the Borderland, click here.

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