An Asheville butcher, a bakery and much more
JosÃ© Armando approaches the butcher’s counter at Tienda Los Nenes and examines the meat with a concern for precision. He already knows what he wants.
Carne asada and massive piles of large pig skins are part of the decor behind the glass cases in front of him. He orders nearly 7 pounds. of Costilla de Puerco – or pork chops – that he will cook at home. As a customer for 10 years, Armando knows that Tienda Los Nenes is a great find.
âThey sell really good cups and things that we buy in Latin America for cooking that you can’t find in other supermarkets,â Armando said.
For 11 years, Maria and Luis Soto owned and operated their business at 1341 Parkwood Road in West Asheville. It all started with a bakery and quickly evolved to include a butcher and a grocery store specializing in Latin American items.
âWe have all the spices you will need for traditional dishes all over Latin America, so it will be easier for you to find them here than online or in other stores,â said Maria Soto.
It is a single, all-in-one service model.
âI would say there are others in the area, probably closer to Hendersonville, but they don’t have as many as here,â Armando said. âThey don’t have the variety they have here. And I always find special things like this that I know are more expensive in other stores when they have it.
A day at Tienda Los Nenes
Energy and liveliness fill the tienda as customers, workers and the store owner engage in jovial conversations spoken in Spanish. Latin music plays over the speakers and the rhythms merge with the sound of the butchers running the meat through the electric slicer at a skillful pace.
“If you’re not Latin and come here it will be a little shock because it’s too much – it’s too much color, too much food, too much smell, too many people sometimes,” said Maria Soto.
It’s a relatively calm day compared to others.
âOn the weekends, we are stunned to see this (a lot) movement the first time, it will be chaotic or weird,â she said. âBut when you get used to it, it’s like going to a party. You will talk to anyone; you can ask for anything and you will eat very well. It’s quite festive to come here and be surrounded by a happy community.
Armando joins other customers who have stocked up on meat, fresh produce and other necessities. A few of them loaded platters of fresh and varied baked goods and presented them to the cashiers for purchase.
Tienda Los Nenes is also Armando’s favorite haunt for baked goods.
âI buy from the bakery because the breads are different and not too sweet,â Armando said. âI also buy tortillas here. They sell very good tortillas.
In August 2010, Los Nenes Bakery opened as a bakery only, following the tradition of Luis Soto’s family, who own bakeries in Mexico City.
The bread is baked fresh, every day, in an authentic Mexican style, said Maria Soto. Bread is made with eggs, milk and other ingredients that give it a soft and long lasting product with a rich taste.
An assortment of breads, cakes, cookies, muffins, and donuts are on display in self-service crates, but chocolate donuts are the bakery’s most popular item.
âI don’t know why they like it so much, but we can make at least 20 chocolate donut platters. And they cost $ 1, so it’s pretty cheap for a nice piece of bread, âshe said.
For DÃa de la Muertos (November 1 and 2), the bakery sells the traditional Day of the Dead bread, pan de muerto, full of flavors of orange and cinnamon.
âYou can eat it with coffee or hot chocolate – hot chocolate the main traditional way – or with milk, and it’s really, really good,â said Maria Soto.
At the entrance to the store, a display case features decorated party cakes available for purchase, or customers can order personalized cakes.
A cut above the rest
A year after the opening of the Los Nenes bakery, Sotos bought the butcher and the store next door which were due to close. They opened the wall and lay down in the second space of the display case. Since then, they have adopted the name Tienda Los Nenes to encompass many aspects of the business.
The butcher’s shop is popular with customers because it offers thinner Latin-style cuts than those offered by traditional grocery stores in the United States. Plus, customers can order pre-seasoned and cooked meat for convenience.
“It’s easier for people who are in a rush or who work a lot to come and get a small pound or 2 pounds of meat to cook it at home with a great taste,” said Maria Soto. âIt’s easy when everything is ready and delicious. You have just served it.
Butchers at Tienda Los Nenes cut meat for walk-in customers and fill orders from local restaurants.
The butcher’s selection ranges from chicken and beef to pork and seafood, such as blue crabs, oysters and octopus.
A supermarket in the making
Tienda Los Nenes is thriving despite increasing services and challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Maria Soto.
âIt’s hard to have a business right now, so imagine (having) all this service. But the community loves the idea of ââhaving everything integrated for all Latin American services and products, so we stay strong, âshe said. âWe have seen other businesses around us spring up from Latin stores to butchers to bakeries and they close in a year or two. It’s a pretty tough business, but it’s nice to have it all together.
Last August, the Sotos seized the opportunity to acquire a third commercial space to further expand their activity. Currently, the area is equipped with tables and chairs for guests to eat hot dishes purchased from the deli, such as tacos carnitas.
The newly added space brings them one step closer to their goal.
âRight now we are a store and we would like to become a supermarket – roughly double the size we are now. We hope to be able to do so in a few years, âsaid Maria Soto. âAsheville is our home and we would love to grow up here. “
The Sotos are on their way to achieving supermarket status in Tienda Los Nenes as the shelves are already stocked with dry goods, hot sauces, Mexican candies and other groceries.
âWe have sweets from other countries, and you can taste them without having to travel outside of the United States. It’s quite interesting to come to the store and find new things.
Fresh produce imported from South America and sourced from local farmers and other small business produce are sought after items.
If you are going to
What: Tienda Los Nenes
Where: 1341 Parkwood Road, Suite 110, Asheville.
Hours: every day from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., including public holidays
Tiana Kennell is a food reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today Network. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter / Instagram @PrincessOfPage.