When a family of nine sisters and seven brothers come together to share the food their family grew up on, Sabor Mexicano is born. For just over a month their authentic Mexican food has been served in the Lowell community. The business name translates to Taste of Mexico, which is what the family behind the name aims to provide.
Lowell’s First Look caught up with Melinda Burgos, one of the sixteen siblings behind Sabor Mexicano. Throughout the week she runs her own plus-size clothing business, Mel B Fashion. However, the weekend is set aside for cooking and selling food with family.
Focus on Flavor, Not Spice
According to Burgos, the Sabor Mexicano menu delivers flavor not spice to the tastebuds. Her personal favorite is a quesadilla with Puerto Rican rice, while customers so far have found their tacos to be one of the more popular items. The menu also includes burritos, tortas, tamales, fresh homemade salsa and Mexican street corn.
“We want to bring a little bit of our heritage to Lowell,” says Burgos. With a Puerto Rican mother and Mexican father, she looks to blend foods from the two for a different take on menu items. As the business grows and expands, more items will be made available.
With their current set up, customers are able to see their food cooked and prepared as they wait. Burgos loves that being able to see her family create their food and even chat with customers as they wait is a great part of the experience.
Setting Up in Lowell
Burgos has taken on the lead role because she “takes control well” says one of her sisters. Her take-charge approach has led this family business to the community. She grew up in Decatur and has been drawn to Lowell because of the small-town feel.
With a family of 16, there’s no shortage of people available to help each weekend. Burgos says she sees who is available as her team of siblings each week can often change. Regardless of who is cooking, preparing orders, and taking orders, customers will be met with smiling faces.
The family is in the process of establishing a food truck to make selling their food easier. The past few weeks they’ve set up at 508 W. Main under tents to cook and prepare orders. Burgos says she’s also looking for a brick-and-mortar location in Lowell where a take-out restaurant can open.
Paperwork Oversight Quickly Resolved
The food wasn’t the only buzz this past weekend at the Sabor Mexicano location. Unfortunately, the day Lowell’s First Look caught up with Burgos she had to end selling food about 45 minutes after opening. An officer with the Lowell Police Department (LPD) stopped by to check permits, indicating someone had made a complaint. Burgos had all of the paperwork needed from the Kent County Health Department but was missing the license from the city allowing the operation under the Mobile Food Vending ordinance. They were given a warning, were told they had to stop taking orders and were asked to obtain the proper paperwork prior to returning.
“We 100% thought we had taken all of the necessary steps and in no way intended to break or skirt a rule!” Burgos explained. “We respect and love this community and truly look forward to being a part of it!” She hopes what happened can be seen as a learning experience for others.
Community resident Bob Rogers stopped by to try out the food as they were cleaning up, unable to make a purchase. “What does this city permit offer or promise to us as consumers, the business or tax-paying citizens?” asked Rogers, curious about what paperwork was needed. “Having a permit from the county health department would be enough for me typically.”
Mobile food operators are usually asked to fill out paperwork within the municipalities they set up as a means to verify the business has the needed county-level paperwork to ensure food safety and that they are an established business. It also provides a means of some revenue because the mobile businesses do not pay taxes to municipalities.
“[Food] trucks are allowed in Lowell, but they need to get a permit,” says City Councilmember Cliff Yankovich, offering the point of view of a brick and mortar business owner and member of Lowell’s City Council. “Pop ups are cool and groovy, but they can also be a kick in the teeth to established businesses that jump through all the hoops, support the schools and non-profits etc.”
The food truck debate took place in Lowell in early 2017. It was during the first City Council meeting of the year the debate on whether to allow mobile food vendors occurred. Lowell’s First Look also wrote an article on the topic before an ordinance was adopted in August 2017 allowing mobile food vendors.
Although disappointed she had to stop serving customers, the mishap did not stopping Burgos. She went to City Hall on Monday and acquired the necessary paperwork to do business in Lowell. She says she and her siblings will return with more motivation to become established in the community. Fortunately, the small setback was easily remedied.
Stop By This Saturday or Sunday
For now, those wanting to give Sabor Mexicano a try as well as repeat customers can find them 508 W. Main, just to the west of the brewery. They’ll be set up and ready for customers this Saturday and Sunday beginning at 12:30pm each day. Have cash, Venmo, Cash App, or PayPal ready. They’re still working on being able to accept credit cards.
Keeping in mind that each week the family has been serving food they have sold out, customers are encouraged to stop by early. Follow the Sabor Mexicano Facebook page for the latest updates on when they’ll be in Lowell, where they’ll be setting up, and what time they’ll be ready for customers.
Photos courtesy of Sabor Mexicano and used with permission.