A chat with Joey, one half of Doña Cholita
How did Doña Cholita first come about?
Since Jefte and I met we’ve always talked about starting a business. Over the years we’ve talked through a million ideas, but we always came back to Mexican food! We used to host a weekly or fortnightly dinner party with our friends where Jefte would relish in the cooking of all these amazing Mexican dishes which he would make from scratch.
So when the idea came to us to make tortillas, like they are made in Mexico, it was like a light bulb moment! Of course! Corn Tortillas are the foundation of Mexican food, no Mexican meal is complete without a stack of fresh corn tortillas – and Australians just didn’t know what they were missing out on! Since we began Doña Cholita our diet has gone back to mostly Mexican or Mexican influenced at least. Tortillas are one of those foods that a Mexican will eat three times a day, everyday and never get sick of. We eat tortillas pretty much every day.
Who’s behind the business
We’re a Mexican / Aussie couple with two small boys. We have an awesome team of locals who help us to make our amazing products and keep the business ticking. But it’s our passion that drives it. We started the business in 2015 with a 1 ½ year old and a newborn. It was Just us at the beginning, we would each have a kid on our backs in the carrier sleeping while we packed tortillas.
Why the name Doña Cholita?
Doña Cholita is Jefte’s beloved grandmother. Doña is a respectful term for an older woman, the feminine version of Don. Cholita is her nickname, her Christian name is Soledad. In México most Christian names have a ‘nickname’ that go with them, if you know someone called Jesus chances are they will be known as Chucho or chuy, Jose = Pe Pe, Ignacio = Nacho and so on.
Méxican women are the matriarch of the house, most importantly they are in charge of the kitchen. A Doña is like the elder, a woman treated with the utmost respect. She is invariably the keeper of the family recipes. If a Mexican tells you, this is my grandmother’s recipe, then you know it’s going to be out of this world.
When we named our business we really wanted something that was personal. Something that really does make us happy. And while day to day the name of our business becomes normalised, it is nice to be reminded that it came from somewhere special! It is a testament to our Mexican heritage, to our family who have shaped us into the people we are today. It’s personal. And it always will be.
What was the philosophy behind it.
We’re passionate about good food, and about being conscious consumers and even more, conscious business owners. We really want to teach Australia about real Mexican food.
Food is the soul of Mexico and it is so diverse and has so much depth. A good tortilla is the foundation of good Mexican food, so that’s where we had to start!
Describe your backgrounds and cultural influences?
Jefte is Mexican, born and raised in Mexico. He travelled around the country with his family living in more than 20 cities throughout his life. I (Joey) am Australian, born and raised in Northern NSW. A semester exchange for university found me in the same city, in fact the same hotel as Jefte in Mexico, back in 2008 and the rest is history!
Jefte is from a big family, one of eight, so meal times we’re always an event, everyone around the dinner table. Cholita was, as to be expected, an amazing cook. While in México living with Jefte and his family a common meal time comment was, you should try Cholita’s (insert whatever we were eating). A comment that might grate on a lot of women, a Mexican man will almost always compare his wife’s cooking to his mother’s cooking and you know that his mother’s cooking will always be surrounded in a childhood nostalgia that makes it almost unbeatable. Not helped by the fact that more often than not the grandmother will pass the recipes and secrets of her cooking to her children, but her daughter in-law, not a chance.
So in my mind Cholita became this cooking genius. Jefte and I spent a lot of time in Mexico in the kitchen with his Mum, Mirna, keen to learn those little tricks that make the difference between almost nailing it, and getting it spot on. Jefte had always spent a lot of time in the kitchen, learning from both his mother and grandmother.
And so the story goes, Cholita was excluded from learning how to cook by her mother in law, who was an amazing cook. She even ran cooking classes, but she refused to teach Cholita anything. So Cholita resolved to not do the same, she taught Jefte’s Mum, Mirna as much as she wanted to know and in turn Mirna has done the same with me.
Having kids and running a business is hectic. How have you survived?
Good wine, exercise and an amazing Grandmother and support network. Most of the time we feel like we are just scraping by, ha!
How often do you get to go back to Mexico?
Not often enough, we started the business with the idea of maintaining a connection to Mexico. It’s important to us that our kids know that that is part of their heritage. All of Jefte’s family lives in Mexico, but our youngest hasn’t met them yet. So we’re always talking about going back.
Why do you do what you do?
Because we love food, especially Mexican food. We love sharing food, and making products like tortillas and chips means that we get to share our passion with people.
The quality of the tortillas in Australia was VERY average when we started out, and we really felt driven to help to bring up the standard. To teach Australia what real Mexican food is!
Where can we buy your stuff?
Independent grocers, deli’s, health food stores, local corner stores across Australia. We have over 100 stockists Australia wide with many more to come. Our stockist page on our website is being updated regularly. If there is somewhere you’d like to be able to get our products get in touch!