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Local tortilleria gains national audience after James Beard nomination

Yoli Tortilleria
Posted at 4:58 PM, Sep 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-24 12:46:44-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In an industrial facility just off Southwest Trafficway, Marissa Tapia Gencarelli and her predominately female team create aromas in the kitchen to rival those in Mexico.

Tapia Gencarelli is the co-owner and founder of Yoli Tortilleria, which started as a passion project about five years ago.

“Our whole ethos is, can we produce the best tortilla possible? That’s it,” she said. “Mainly because I am very selfish, and I wanted to have a really good taco. That’s how it really started.”

First with a hand-propelled grinder in her kitchen, she’s now upgraded to machines that can grind out thousands of tortillas each day for distribution across the country.

“It’s fun to just watch the business grow organically. So, it’s not like we went from zero to 100,” Tapia Gencarelli said. “A lot of explaining to people what we are doing, why we are doing it, where we source our ingredients. People were not used to hearing that story about the tortilla.”

Hailing from Sonora, Mexico, Tapia Gencarelli moved to the states when she started college in Arizona. After meeting her husband, a KU grad, during her study abroad program, she eventually moved to the Kansas City metropolis.

Tapia Gencarelli missed the tastes of home. She set out, with the help of her partner, to create a tortilla that represented her roots.

“I think that everybody should try to do it at least once in their life, so they realize how hard it is,” she said. “But also because it is such a pride thing to go ahead and produce something.”

Yoli’s process starts with whole corn kernels, many shipped in from Mexico and some from regional farmers. The corn is cooked in water and lime, then ground into masa.

Tapia Gencarelli wanted to keep the integrity of traditional recipes.

“Corn was there before the conquistadores, and corn was after,” she said.

Unlike other tortillas on the market, Yoli tortillas have a short shelf life. They are meant to be eaten no more than 12 days after they are shipped out because of the fresh ingredients used to make them and the lack of preservatives.

Standing next to the corn as it’s being ground into masa, Tapia Gencarelli described the smell in the room as “like home.”

“Almost just like the corn was just cooked in your house, and that scent is almost sweet,” Tapia Gencarelli said. “It’s very earthy.”

Though Tapia Gencarelli doesn't like to lead with her most recent acolades, Yoli Tortilleria received a nomination for a James Beard award in the outstanding baker category.

But she’s chasing the tastes of home, not an award.

“That’s something innate in me that I just want to make sure we are making the best thing possible,” Topia Gencarelli said. “As a Mexican, that's just part of our overall ethos. Eat what you have around you, make the best out of it and share it with the family. I think, for me, being able to do this day in and day out, I’m just very lucky.”

After the nomination, she took orders from New York and Texas. Now those curious foodies are loyal customers.

“It just blows my mind because there are a lot of great products there, too," she said. "But it’s just an honor. An honor to go ahead and be able to share what we do.”