Woman Brings Memories Of Stone-Ground Tortillas In Mexico To New Business In Kansas City | KCUR

Woman Brings Memories Of Stone-Ground Tortillas In Mexico To New Business In Kansas City

Mar 25, 2018

At a factory in Kansas City's East Bottoms, a conveyor belt spits out roughly 2,500 warm tortillas an hour. They're made from yellow, blue and red corn.

The yellow corn tortilla is so flavorful, says Marissa Gencarelli, it’s like, “corn punching you in the face.”

Marissa and her husband, Mark Gencarelli, launched their Yoli Tortilleria business about eight months ago. Marissa, who is originally from Mexico, wanted corn tortillas that were close to what she grew up eating.

In her hometown of Obregón, Sonora, Mexico, women sold burritos and machaca (dried beef rehydrated with chopped tomatoes, onions, and sauteed) to Marissa and her classmates at school.

“They’re literally bouncing over their shoulder a pizza-sized tortilla,” Marissa remembers. “So they have these gigantic tortillas and put a little bit of the machaca, and that’s what you have in the morning.”

Volcanic stones at Yoli Tortilleria partway through the carving process.
Credit Matthew Long-Middleton

In the evening, she says, “you might have spaghetti for dinner, (but) there’d be fresh corn tortillas at the table every day. So it’s kind of just ingrained in you.”

When she moved to Kansas City, she couldn’t find the stone-ground tortillas she was used to eating.

She and Mark tried to make them at home, but they couldn’t get it quite right.

“In order to grind the corn properly, to get that really fine consistent grind, you have to have the equipment. It’s nothing you can just do at home,” says Mark.

That’s when they decided to open their tortilleria.

Volcanic stones at Yoli Tortilleria after grinding corn kernels into masa.
Credit Matthew Long-Middleton

Now, they buy batches of corn, 2500 pounds at a time, and soak the kernels with water and lime powder, which helps soften the shells. They fire up the burners and let this corn soup steep overnight.

After that, they transfer the substance to another machine. Mark carved channels into volcanic stones that grind the kernels into the thick, doughy paste known as masa.

From there, the masa is fed into a hopper, where the tortillas are cut to size and baked. They emerge from the oven puffy.

The Gencarellis hope to make flour tortillas someday. But in the meantime, they’re trying to show people the joy that stone-ground corn tortillas can bring.

“A lot of our Mexican (countrymen) don't know the history. Sometimes, they won't know the difference between certain tortillas because they've just grown up with the other one,” says Marissa. “It's kind of like, no, no, no, let me teach you! Let me show you, from Mexican to Mexican, what a good tortilla is."


Matthew Long-Middleton is a producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to him at Matthew@kcur.org and follow him on Twitter @MLMIndustries.