When the four Ortiz brothers were growing up in Calistoga, their house was a popular after-school destination for a very specific reason: their mother’s tamales.
These weren’t just any tamales. Their mother Divina made them with her special molé sauce wrapped in banana leaves with a recipe, passed down to her from family in Oaxaca, Mexico.
The family moved to Calistoga when Christopher, Ivan, Omar, and Noel were young, and they attended schools here. The family often brought their homemade tamales to special events and celebrations, and all four brothers cut their teeth in the restaurant business; among them, they have spent time as chefs at Solbar, Meadowood, the Calistoga Inn, and Sam’s Social Club.
Over the years, the Ortiz brothers batted around the idea of selling their popular tamales, using their mother’s recipe, in Calistoga. They approached the Calistoga Chamber of Commerce and Karen Verzosa, manager of the Calistoga Farmers' Market, and in 2019 they started offering their Oaxacan tamales at the market. They were an instant hit.
Said Noel Ortiz, the youngest Ortiz brother, “Our tamales always sell out, but we’re careful not to make too many because we want them to be fresh. We make chicken mole, pork, and mushroom tamales.” He said that while the pandemic slowed business, now these flavorful delicacies are a weekly fixture at the market.
Through their connections to Calistoga’s restaurant and hospitality industry, the Ortiz brothers have made a deal with Jennifer Bennett, owner of Lovina, to use her kitchen in the early mornings to create and prep their tamales.
Bolstered by their success, the Ortiz clan is soon to open a standalone retail location in one of the renovated railcars at the Calistoga Depot, a California Historical Landmark. The Depot is owned by the Merchant family which is in the process of restoring the railcars. Ortiz said he and his brothers hope to open their tamale shop at the Depot this August.
The spot will be called La Guelaguetza Oaxacan Cuisine. La Guelaguetza is an indigenous cultural event in Mexico held in Oaxaca. Noel Ortiz says the name loosely translates to “an offering to God.”
In addition to the Farmers' Market, the Ortiz brothers have provided tamales to a few special events and hope to do more catering in the future. Noel added, “I want to thank our locals for their support and everyone for stopping by the Market.”