Mawi Tortillerias, located in the Metairie area, is not only famous for their homemade corn tortillas, but also for their tostadas, salsas, and cheeses. Although Mawi has been around for a few years, it wasn’t until Wilfredo Avelar and his father, Carlos, became the owners of the business, that their passion and love for what Mawi stands for helped project the business around the greater New Orleans area. When the Avelar family had the opportunity to take over Mawi Tortillerias, they realized it was a place far too important to disappear within the community. We recently sat down to chat with Wilfredo Avelar about Mawi Tortillerias and his path to finding success and how his childhood and professional experiences led him to operating Mawi Tortillerias for the community and greater New Orleans area.
WA: “I’ll say this forever, that I would compare our tortilla to a freshly baked loaf of bread. The aroma, the smell, the warmth of it, when you come in and you get it fresh out of the ice chest… it’s just incomparable.”
As a Spanish-speaking business, Wilfredo and Carlos Avelar made it quite easy for folks from the Latin and Hispanic community, who may not be fluent in English, to feel at home and experience a sense of belonging.
WA: “I always identify as Costa Rican, but if people ask me where I’m from, I say well, I was born in New Orleans. I was raised in Costa Rica and then I kind of grew up in Louisiana. My dad is from El Salvador and I recently went there four or five years ago. It was my first time ever going since I grew up in my mom’s country. To have both of these identities become a part of me now has definitely shown me that I can apply my identity with our employees and customers who are not only Central American; I also see Mexican people stop by as everyone can actually apply the ingredients of the products we offer into their own foods.
Born in New Orleans, Wilfredo had always grown up with the concept of hospitality and family being the core of success for any restaurant, especially since working within the industry at the age of 14. Down the road from the tortilleria is the hospital where he was born, and now Avelar’s own children are being raised in Metairie. The defining time of his childhood which has shaped him into the person he is today revolved around his mother’s decision to take him to live with her in Costa Rica.
WA: “I was very fortunate that my mom decided that I would move with her to Costa Rica when I was in first grade. I spent the first grade through eighth grade living there. The connection to the neighborhood grocery store and the fresh smell of the corn tortillas that we had in Costa Rica is what connected me to Mawi Tortillerias as well. I started my first food experiences in Costa Rica with Masa, and corn tortillas are something that you can make using Masa as well. One of the first things I learned how to make was an empanada.”
Food and cooking were always a passion for him, but it was still a journey for his father to understand why Wilfredo wanted to go down this road, knowing the long hours and sacrifices that came with it. Neither realized how co-owning Mawi Tortillerias would help strengthen their personal relationship while connecting them to their previous professional backgrounds.
WA: “Once we took over the business, Mawi Tortillerias didn’t really have a whole lot of exposure, nor regular clientele that came in day-in and day-out to buy fresh corn tortillas. So the first year and a half my dad put a lot of money, out of pocket, into paying the employees, the rent, and buying the ingredients that we needed to make tortillas. I knew a lot of restaurants in town and a lot of chefs who really wanted to use a fresh corn tortilla as opposed to something that has preservatives and that you buy in bulk at the grocery store. One of our biggest supporters since we opened up has been Johnny Sanchez, so we started working with them a lot.”
Wilfredo’s discovery of Mawi Tortillerias ties back to his days working at Meril Restaurant alongside Chef Emeril Lagasse. Wilfredo had noticed there wasn’t a “perfect” tortilla for his dishes and he was on a quest to find one.
WA: “We were planning on putting a taco on the menu for Meril Restaurant so I was on the hunt for a really good fresh flour or corn tortilla, and we couldn’t find one to fit our needs. After many attempts of trying to find a supplier, I was taking my kids to school one day, when I saw Mawi Tortillerias. I stopped by and called the number on the door. They were willing to give me some samples to take back to the restaurant. It was that moment, stepping into Mawi for the first time and getting that aroma of fresh-baked tortillas, that I realized it was something special.”
With Wilfredo stepping in as Executive Chef and Owner of Mawi Tortillerias full-time as of May this year, he’s making it his point to evolve what Mawi Tortillerias is known for. Wilfredo wants to spotlight just how versatile masa is.
WA: “It’s well known that you can make tortillas with masa, as well as tamales, but many don’t realize that you can make a plethora of baked or fried goods.”
Mawi Tortillerias uses two blends of corn masa, kosher salt, and filtered water. There’s a specific blend they use with the two grinds of masa. Wilfredo and his father are very proud of their products since they don’t have any preservatives or additives and they avoid using filler, or stretching the dough to maximize yields. The machine they use is managed by hand and you can see the Mawi team making tortillas and prepping the masa in the early mornings of business hours.
WA: “Whatever fresh tortillas we don’t sell the day of for retail purposes, are what we use to make our tortilla chips and tostadas the following day. So they’re actually better the next day to fry up because they’ve dried out. And then at that point the less moisture you have, the crisper the product you’ll end up with.”
Although you can go to Mawi Tortillerias to purchase tortillas, chips, and so much more for your own meals, we highly suggest going to the following restaurants where they serve Mawi Tortillas with their own twist: Espiritu Mezcaleria, Taco Village in the North Shore, all Felipe’s Taquerias in New Orleans, Habenero’s in Covington, Johnny Sanchez, La Carreta, Los Jefes, Nacho Mama’s, Nola Cantina, Nolé, Otra Vez, Pagoda Cafe, Pepe’s in Covington, and Zocalo.