© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Why the chef-owner of Poio made the hard call to close his Kansas City, Kansas, restaurant

Carlos Mortera has nothing against fast food. He likes it. Putting his food in a box and serving it at a drive-through excites him.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Carlos Mortera permanently closed the Kansas City, Kansas, location of his Mexican barbecue restaurant Poio at the end of April.

At the end of April, Carlo Mortera announced his decision to permanently close his popular Mexican barbeque restaurant, Poio, in Kansas City, Kansas. But there's still a franchise location open inside the new Kansas City International Airport terminal.

Carlos Mortera struggled with the idea of not working all hours of the waking day, he shared, explaining that this subconscious guilt is sometimes known as “immigrant shame.”

“Being a first-generation [American], you see all the sacrifices your parents made to get you to this country. Because of their sacrifices, you feel like you should excel at something — graduating with honors, opening a business; whatever it is, you need to work, work, work. But life is more than just working. I’m just learning that as an adult. I started working when I was 14 years old, and now I am almost 40,” said Mortera, the founder of The Bite Catering and Consulting and Poio.

At the end of April, Mortera announced his decision to permanently close his Mexican barbeque restaurant, Poio, in Kansas City, Kansas. Although it was an emotional decision, Mortera weighed the pros and cons and took a logical approach, he said.

“I went through all the stages of acceptance,” Mortera said. “I was angry at first. I doubted it. But in the end, it was the right decision. I looked at how much time and money it cost me to run Poio versus how much time and money it cost me to run my catering business [The Bite], and it was the smart decision to let Poio go.”

Along with improving finances, closing the restaurant gives Mortera the opportunity to focus his energy on his health, creative ideas and most importantly, his family.

“This past year, my dad decided to retire, and I had a health condition that was making it all very overwhelming and very stressful,” Mortera admitted. “I was barely seeing my two kids. … [They are] 2 and 3 years old. Now I get to see them grow up, so they are really why I made this decision.”

A buyer approached Mortera earlier this year with a proposition to buy the KCK building and restaurant equipment — but not the Poio brand. Travelers can still taste Poio’s offerings at its location within Kansas City International Airport’s new terminal, which opened in February.

“The operation at the airport is through a franchise license, so I do not have to do the day-to-day work there,” Mortera explained. “I just provide support when needed.”

Restaurant offerings at the Made of Kansas City food hall space — including Poio — at KCI’s new terminal.
Tommy Felts
Startland News
Restaurant offerings at the Made of Kansas City food hall space — including Poio — at KCI’s new terminal.

Mortera calls himself unemployed, but the truth is far from it, he admitted. Even though he’s not working 12 to 16 hours at the restaurant, Mortera is keeping himself busy with catering and consulting services through The Bite, as well as other passion projects like SábaDos.

SábaDos is a community festival that features local musicians, artists and vendors. Mortera started it alongside artist FK Menace in 2022 as a way to shine a spotlight on minority and LQBTQ+ vendors and artists who have been looking for a place to belong, he said.

The celebratory event is returning this Saturday, May 13 on a bigger stage. Vendors and performers will be set up 2 p.m. until 6 p.m. at Lemonade Park in the West Bottoms.

“We will be there the second Saturday of every month until November,” Mortera said. “We’re able to bring in more vendors, and people can expect to hear a more diverse range of music — bands, producers, DJs. It’s going to be a really good time.”

For those who crave Mortera’s dishes but aren’t planning on hopping on a flight anytime soon, they can anticipate future pop-ups or book him for catering opportunities.

“Back in 2019, my friend Drew, who is vegan, and I would always make vegan snacks — so one day we decided to do it as a pop-up,” Mortera said, referring to La Vegana KC. “It was very well received in the vegan community, so we are thinking about bringing that back, but we don’t have a certain set date.”

 Carlos Mortera is focusing more on his other business, The Bite Catering and Consulting.
Channa Steinmetz
Startland News
Carlos Mortera is focusing more on his other business, The Bite Catering and Consulting.

The Bite caters to large events, as well as private home dinners. Cannabis consumers can even book Mortera to prepare a private, cannabis-infused dinner that includes 30 milligrams of THC spread out between six courses.

“We started doing the cannabis[-infused] dinners when medicinal cards became legal, and now that it is recreational, it is a lot easier and more accessible to do,” Mortera said. “I have a lot of amazing, new clients — a lot of people you would never expect. But the stigma has gone down since legalization; it’s made people a lot more open to it.”

Mortera is currently working on his own line of THC edibles, he teased.

“Everything I wasn’t able to do because of the restaurant, I’m able to do it now,” Mortera said. “My creativity was being capped at the restaurant because we had a set menu. I am excited to be more creative and share my ideas with the community over this next year.”

Work is important, Mortera acknowledged, but it shouldn’t prohibit someone from enjoying their life.

“I’m still learning how to relax because it’s always been work, work, work,” Mortera shared. “But I’m happy to be spending more time with my kids and fun projects that I am passionate about.”

This story was originally published by Startland News, a fellow member of the KC Media Collective.

KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.