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Photo courtesy of Tamalitoz

For inhabitants of a country with a dizzying variety of candy, Americans are not very familiar with handmade confectionery. Enter the candy pullers of Instagram, who make mesmerizing, widely viewed content folding, rolling out, and chopping little pieces of hard candy most of us have never tasted. Enter the Mexican-American brand Tamalitoz.

These little “pillows,” as candy maker and founder Jack Bessudo calls them, are made in a similar way to candy canes. Hard candy is placed on a puller (like the saltwater taffy machines of the Northeast), which incorporates some air into the sugar mixture. It’s rolled out into logs, and stretched into thinner canes, which then go through a roller pinching them into little pillow shapes, like ravioli.

“I learned how to make candy from a guy that worked in this candy shop in Australia,” says Bessudo. “So I had actually seen that candy shop on a business trip, like, 20 years ago, and I fell in love with the concept of that store.”

The European technique produces what many think of as old-fashioned candies, but Tamalitoz are kicked up a notch with traditional Mexican flavors for an exciting fusion: no matter the flavor of the candy itself — things like watermelon, mango, tamarind, and cucumber — each pillow is filled with chili, lime, and sea salt. The hard candy forms a shell around the outside, and the aerated inside dissolves, similar to malt powder.

In August, Tamalitoz added a softer, low-sugar candy to the lineup — like a vegan Starburst sweetened with monk fruit — called ChewLows. This October, the brand also expects to release a new collaboration with Nadia Elhaj of Cornucopia, a popcorn maker in Tamalitoz's new home, Austin. Both expansions stay on-brand with fruity flavors and a spicy kick.

Tamalitoz were best-sellers at Bessudo’s several shops in Mexico, Sugarox, where visitors loved watching the process. His English boyfriend, Dec — who would become his husband — helped around the shop in its early stages, handling the more serious business while Jack experimented with sugar.

Thankfully, Tamalitoz were also easy to make, so they were the flagship product when the couple decided it was time to expand. The Sugarox owners both loved Mexico, but the language barrier was hard for Dec, who suggested moving the business to the United States, where Jack had grown up, in Houston.

Rather than suffer through the minutia of international candy exporting alone, Bessudo made some friends. Serving as a board member for the American Society of Mexico, he met City of San Antonio representative Jill Metcalfe, who in turn connected him with the Free Trade Alliance. Things moved fast.

“They helped us with looking at the business plan and the opportunities, and they were a really great bunch of people,” says Bessudo. “After we did all of that … they offer to set up meetings with potential buyers. The first people that ever saw the finished product was two days after we had done [the packaging]. And one of the meetings that we had was with the procurement person at H-E-B.”

Still a small team hand-making candy at every step, Sugarox stretched itself thin to make 9,000 bags per month, falling far short of H-E-B’s goal of 60,000. The Texas retailer said it’d wait. Meanwhile, a Walmart buyer at a convention put Tamalitoz on shelves as Sugarox worked to up its production, learning the hard way that making thousands of bags of candy is not the same quaint experience as running some stores on charm and taste.

“One of my concerns was, how are people going to react to a high-end Mexican style candy?” says Bessudo. “Living in San Antonio, Mexican candy is not considered premium. It's delicious, but it's not premium. Especially with the pricing strategy … to our surprise, people were extremely accepting of it.”

At the same convention, they met another shop owner who explained her candy making process at a facility in Tijuana, Mexico. The new allies created a new supply chain from Tijuana to San Diego to Austin, where the couple moved, and started delivering small shipments to local H-E-Bs. They passed the 20-store milestone, shifted to UPS shipments, and started the expansions that led to chews and popcorn.

Like many pandemic businesses going through growing pains, Sugarox had to cut back somewhere, and the pair decided to close all their Mexican stores. Thus far, though, Tamalitoz have crossed every invisible line, from Mexico to San Antonio; as a gay couple looking for support in corporate retail; and as artisans hoping to show Americans how high their candy standards can be. Mexico has not tasted its last Tamalitoz.

Tamalitoz can be found at H-E-B, Walmart, and independent retailers mapped at tamalitoz.com. A new popcorn product is coming soon.

Courtesy of Bakery Lorraine

Favorite San Antonio bakery heads for the hills with first Boerne location

Boerne Bound

One of Alamo City's best bakeries, and perhaps one of its most famous, is heading for the Hill Country. Bakery Lorraine recently announced its newest location coming to Boerne in October 2022.

Featuring the bakery's full menu — macarons, pastries, sandwiches, salads, and more — Boerne residents and Hill Country visitors will find the new location at 134 Oak Park Dr. An official opening date will be announced closer to the time.

Owned by chefs Anne Ng, Jeremy Mandrell, and operator Charlie Biedenharn, the bakery celebrated 10 years in San Antonio in 2021 and its future looks bright: The company has four locations in Alamo City, including one in the Historic Pearl district, one in the Medical Center, one in the RIM shopping center, and one inside the The DoSeum. This new Hill Country location will be its second outside San Antonio, with an Austin outpost at the Domain Northside.

“We are very excited to be opening up shop in Boerne,” said chef and owner Anne Ng. “Boerne feels like a natural fit for Bakery Lorraine and we’re looking forward to becoming part of the community.”

Ng and partner Jeremy Mandrell met while baking at Thomas Keller’s world-famous Bouchon Bakery in Napa Valley, moving to San Antonio in 2010. Since establishing Bakery Lorraine in 2011, the pair have garnered national attention from the likes of Food & Wine magazine (best new bakeries), Condé Nast Traveler (13 destination bakeries), and Southern Living (the South's Best Bakeries, 2022).

In addition to the bakery's iconic, colorful Parisian macarons and divine pastries, the Boerne location will also feature breakfast items, including the breakfast parfait, the quiche Lorraine, and breakfast sandwiches. A variety of savory lunch dishes, including an assortment of salads, soups, and artisan sandwiches, will provide plenty of reasons to stop by well past the morning pastry craving.

For more information on Bakery Lorraine visit bakerylorraine.com.

Photo courtesy of H-E-B

H-E-B crowns big winners in annual Quest for Texas Best competition

Delicious victory

H-E-B revealed the winners of a delicious competition this week. The annual Quest for Texas Best competition seeks to find the best Texas-made food products, with the big winners being sold at H-E-B grocery stores around the state.

Five winning brands, narrowed down from more than 500 entries, were announced Wednesday, August 24.

Claiming the $25,000 grand prize in the H-E-B contest was McAllen-based I Love Chamoy, which makes a sugar-free version of the sweet, tangy, spicy Mexican sauce. Creator Annie Leal "made it her mission to make this traditional staple of Mexican candy more accessible to people with different dietary needs," following her father's diabetes diagnosis, the H-E-B website says.

The first-place winner was an Austin-based maker of frozen gourmet cookie dough, Love & Cookies, which received $20,000.

Ashley Cameron founded Love & Cookies in 2019 after her 5-year-old son was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease, a common heart ailment among children. After returning home from a stay at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, all her son wanted to do was “bake cookies with Mommy.”

Cameron kept making cookies, sharing them with friends and family and subsequently opened a store baking and selling 14 gourmet flavors of cookies. She followed that up by introducing a line of four varieties of frozen gourmet cookie dough.

Reacting to the H-E-B victory, Cameron says part of the winnings will be donated to the Kawasaki Kids Foundation and the rest will be invested in Love & Cookies. “We can’t wait to share our product with the rest of Texas,” Cameron says.

Grabbing second place and a $15,000 prize was Houston-based Zwita, which produces harissa, a traditional Mediterranean chile sauce that originated in Tunisia. The company’s owners are Karim and Mansour Arem.

“This is a monumental achievement for us because it confirms that there is indeed interest in our Tunisian stories and culture,” the Arem brothers say. “It is also a testament to how multiculturally rich our beautiful state is and how there is not just one meaning to being Texan. We are humbled that H-E-B wholeheartedly supports us in our mission of preserving our Tunisian ancestry by helping us share it with our fellow Texans.”

The Arems say their prize money will be earmarked for marketing and advertising campaigns.

Tying for third place and snagging $10,000 prizes were Dallas-based Smokey John’s Bar-B-Que, which makes a barbecue rub that will be available at H-E-B stores, and Guthrie-based Burnett Ranches, which produces Four Sixes Ranch Chuck Wagon Chili Mix.

Brent and Juan Reaves, the brothers who own Smokey John’s, say the H-E-B recognition means their dad’s dream has been realized. Their father founded the Smokey John’s barbecue joint, originally known as Big John’s, in 1976.

“He always believed that he had a quality product, but he didn’t live to see it validated,” the Reaves brothers say. “H-E-B believing in us today was really them believing in our dad. And today we are so proud that he was validated by a retail giant.”

The brothers say some of the prize money will be shared with the company’s employees, and the remainder will go toward product marketing and expansion of retail sales.

“Each year we are amazed by the submissions,” James Harris, senior director of diversity and inclusion and supplier diversity at San Antonio-based H-E-B, says of Quest for Texas Best. “The creativity, passion, and determination is truly impressive and inspiring.”

I Love Chamoy was the grand-prize winner.

Photo courtesy of H-E-B
I Love Chamoy was the grand-prize winner.
Photo courtesy of Girl Scouts

Girl Scouts unveil radical new flavor for 2023 cookie season

Cookie News

The Girl Scouts are up to something radical: According to a release from Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas and Girl Scouts of the USA, they're adding a new flavor for the 2023 season that's a spinoff of their trademark Thin Mints cookie.

Called the Raspberry Rally, it's a thin, crispy cookie that looks and acts like a Thin Mint, with the same chocolaty coating. But instead of a minty center, it's infused with raspberry flavor. Gasp.

They're calling it a sister to the Thin Mint but everyone knows that the Thin Mint is an only child and has no siblings.

The new raspberry-flavored cookie will be available to consumers nationally during the 2023 Girl Scout Cookie season, alongside favorites like Thin Mints and Samoas. But it will be available online only, the first Girl Scout cookie lineup to be thusly sold, with the idea that it will enhance Girl Scout e-commerce sales and entrepreneurial skills.

It will also be available in limited quantities, so stand by for some frenzied online ordering once the season begins.

UPDATE 1-12-2023: Girl Scout cookie season begins on January 12. The Raspberry Rally, for sale online only, will be available for purchase on February 27.

The release recounts the myriad pluses of the Girl Scouts cookies program, not that anyone needs persuasion, I mean all you have to say is cookies, but here goes:

  • One-hundred percent of proceeds raised from in-person and online cookie orders directly benefit local councils and troops.
  • Girl Scouts learn leadership, problem-solving, and community building through the Girl Scout Cookie Program, resulting in an invaluable experience that cultivates an innovative, entrepreneurial spirit.
  • The Girl Scout Cookie Program encourages girls to be risk takers, to think outside of the box, and to be confident in their own abilities.

The program embraces the understanding of the world of business, money management, and entrepreneurship. Cookie Business badges range anywhere from goal setting to learning effective in-person and online sales pitches, using market research, creating business plans, and implementing digital marketing campaigns.

There's also the fact that it's just fun to get something that isn't readily available 365 days per year.

This is not the first new flavor the Girl Scouts have introduced. Who could forget Adventurefuls, the brownie-inspired cookie with caramel-flavored crème and sea salt they introduced for the 2022 season? Still available, btw.

"The Raspberry Rally is the perfect addition to our delicious line up of Girl Scout Cookies," said Jennifer Bartkowski, CEO of Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas. "When you purchase a box of Girl Scout Cookies, you are fueling girls’ learning and development through incredible leadership development programs. All proceeds stay local and support troops in your community with essential funds to power unique opportunities and adventures for their girls."

While Girl Scout Cookies will be available for online-only purchases starting in December, the official start to Cookie Season in Central Texas is January 18, 2023. Visit www.girlscoutcookies.org to sign up to be notified as soon as Raspberry Rally and other Girl Scout Cookies are on sale.

Photo courtesy of Brasao

3 San Antonio steakhouses make the cut among Bumble's date night destinations

It's A Date?

There's still something romantic about meeting someone you really click with over a meal, and it looks great to suggest a cool, delicious restaurant for that first get-together. But it also adds to the pressure: According to a press release, an OpenTable and YouGov survey found that the top “stressor” for people going on first dates is “picking the right spot/activity.”

To address that unfortunate idea gap, OpenTable and Bumble teamed up to create a dining guide in 2021, listing the 100 Best Restaurants for a Date in America. This year, they reprised the popular list across Bumble’s three verticals — romance, friendship, and business — and three of those standout restaurants are in San Antonio.

“At Bumble, we’re fueled by bringing people together to build genuine connections across every stage of their life: dating, making friends and professional connections,” said Olivia Yu, Bumble’s global vice president of partnerships, in the release. “We saw great feedback from our community following our partnership with OpenTable last fall … [and] couldn’t wait to partner with OpenTable again.”

Before going any further, it’s time to acknowledge any weirdness in categorization. The methodology compared user ratings on OpenTable to determine the “best” restaurants, and then sorted them based on tags indicating whether each was "romantic," “good for groups,” and “good for business meals.” Although Bumble and OpenTable teamed up for this, the data is all automated.

In San Antonio, Brazilian steakhouse Chama Gaucha appears on the Best Restaurants for a Date list, while Brasao Brazilian Steakhouse lands on the Best Restaurants for a Friend Date. (Some crossover is probably permissible, but the OpenTable hive mind makes the rules). J-Prime Steakhouse makes the cut among Best Restaurants for a Business Meeting. Apparently San Antonians enjoy steak.

Austin also scored three restaurants on the lists, with a lot more variety. For dates, sushi restaurant Uchiko charms as always, and Trattoria Lisina (technically out in Driftwood) transports visitors to Italy. Both restaurants are often cited as must-tries, and have earned their popularity in large part because of atmosphere. One other Austin restaurant, Steiner Ranch Steakhouse, made the friendship list; none made the business list.

“People are craving connection, and partnering with Bumble to debut curated diner guides means skipping the dreaded ‘where should we go’ question and instead focusing on nailing that first impression,” said OpenTable chief growth officer Susan Lee in the release. “The win-win is that this movement for in-person socialization also supports the still-recovering dining scene.”

Now through August 18, these lists will pop up for users in Bumble, who can swipe for a link giving recommendations. Those who would like to browse more intentionally can view the lists on OpenTable. All can book, and if they don't agree with this year's lists, feel free to leave the reviews that build next year's.

Photo by Megan Bucknall

New service brings top chefs from San Antonio and beyond into your kitchen

Getting Personal

Life in the restaurant industry is complicated, but Texas does love its chefs.

Zach Knight, an Austin restaurant industry vet of 12 years, was on a gondola in Aspen with his friend Emmie Nostitz when the idea for Tivity was born in 2020. Knight received a call from a client, if he could call them that, asking to be connected with an Austin chef for a private at-home dinner. He had been making those personal connections to keep the restaurant spirit alive during the pandemic, but it wasn’t a business yet.

Nostitz, a creative director in advertising living in New York, saw that call as the signal it was: there was a market for this kind of connection. For the next six months, Knight and Nostitz traded calls and texts full of incidental ideas for an informal product slowly unfolding.

One of Knight's calls included an acknowledgment (that Tivity had to be real) and an invitation (that Nostitz should join, no pressure). Like many New Yorkers ready for a change, Nostitz found herself in Austin for a visit two weeks later, and for a home in 2021.

Tivity has branched out since then — with markets in Austin, Aspen, Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Chicago — but the service is still in a sweet spot between having an established community, and enjoying total freedom within its own system. It's not even tied to those markets; anywhere an individual chef is willing to travel is fair game, with nearby places like San Antonio representing a great opportunity to build lasting new cross-city relationships. That ethos extends to everything Tivity does. Most questions about how the service works are met with a question back: “How do you need it to work?”

As of July 2022, there’s a Google form to get things started. It asks about the necessary logistics, and opens up to “vibe.” The text boxes solicit information on the purpose of the event, the desired feel, and the type of guests, but notably, not the name of any chef or restaurant. But pulling from a wide pool of talent — sous chefs, chefs de cuisine, chef teams, and more from recognizable local restaurants — it’s hard to choose wrong.

“I think one of the best representations of what we do is a dating app. We are a matchmaker for chefs and clients,” says Knight. “We know what the chefs do, we know what the clients want, and we are matchmaking those experiences.”

Like a consultant, Tivity offers an opinion, or at least an idea. The team has noticed patterns early in conversations — clients choosing the same chefs and the same types of plates, again and again — that keep the service unnecessarily restricted.

“They say we want the chicken or the steak, and they don't know how to think outside the box,” says Nostitz, putting that paralysis of choice in sharp focus. “We end up talking to them and offering a Peruvian meal that they never, ever would have thought about.”

One of Tivity’s earliest, most defining meals took place during a more restrictive phase of the pandemic, for a client organizing her husband’s birthday. She requested steak. When she and Knight started planning over the phone, she mentioned that they would usually be in Spain, but couldn’t travel for birthday festivities. Tivity connected the couple with a chef to recreate “the dinner they would have had [in Spain],” who made a Spanish cake that caused the birthday celebrant to shed a tear over dessert.

“Before Uber, having a black car pick you up was getting a chauffeur,” says Knight, “and having a chef in your home was only stuff you saw on TV. We're really trying to bring that down so that it's a common idea.”

They’re succeeding. Tivity can get things started for a custom meal 24 hours after receiving a form, with about a month recommended in advance. Taking into account the huge variability Tivity offers (and the flexibility of pricing necessary to sustain that), a simple buffet-style spread could run a client in a home city roughly the same bill per person as most of the lower priced prix fixe menus around town on holidays. Meal preps are priced even lower, but for bigger budgets, a plated course dinner is comparable to one at top restaurants in Texas.

It’s as ready for an exclusive corporate celebration as it is for girls’ night. And hopefully, the duo says, it can make life easier on chefs, too, who suddenly have the chance to get creative and build a brand outside of the kitchen, to make some cash on the side, or even to offset a leisure trip near a far-away client.

Both Knight and Nostitz talk about the life-changing potential of food, for chefs and for everyone else at the table. Why should we be picky about whose table it is?

More information about Tivity, including an in-depth inquiry form and transparent pricing, is available at thetivity.com.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

San Antonio suburb among the richest places in Texas for 2023, plus more top stories

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. Here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. San Antonio suburb cashes in among the richest places in Texas for 2023. Alamo Heights has been renamed the third richest place in Texas for 2023 in a recent study.

2. San Antonio home sales slowed in December 2022, report finds. San Antonio sold 36,477 homes all year, a 10 percent decrease from 2021.

3. Here are the top 5 things to do in San Antonio this weekend. Nina Simone, Pink Floyd, the Beatles and more music-centered events made our roundup of the best things to do in Alamo City this weekend.

4. San Antonio Home & Garden Show returns with HGTV star. Ati Williams will headline the San Antonio Spring Home & Garden Show, which takes place February 24-26.

5. H-E-B opens first location in growing San Antonio suburb. The state-of-the-art facility offers 110,000 square feet of floor space, providing everything from cat food to charcuterie.


Popular Pearl brunch spot remixes with new weekend DJ nights

OONCE OONCE OONCE

Though Full Goods Diner has barely been open for half a year, it has already become a San Antonio staple for working weekday lunches and lingering Sunday Fundays. Now the Pearl eatery is looking to be a hot spot after dark.

Via release, the popular local haunt just announced a new limited-time music series, Full Goods at Night. Starting on February 2, Full Goods Diner will open select evenings throughout the month.

The Full Goods at Night series will feature popular local San Antonio DJs, including El West Side Sound, Hector Gallego, DJ Plata, Steven Lee Moya, and Cami Gee. Guests can enjoy live sets while indulging in a specially curated food and drink offerings.

The menu will include some of Full Goods Diner's best—selling items, such as French toast sticks, barbacoa waffle fries, and jumbo cheesy tots. Libations like the Attaboy Negroni, Royal Bermuda Daiquiri, Pink G&T, and more will fuel the festivities.

In addition to enjoying moonlight brunch, guests can relish some prime people-watching. And, of course, the restaurant is just a hop from other nightlife destinations like Pink Hill, 3 Star Bar, and Summer Camp Bar, making it the perfect party starter.

The series runs every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from February 2-25, 6-10 pm. The complete DJ schedule is listed below.

February 2 — El West Side Sound·
February 3 — Hector Gallego
February 4— DJ Plata
February 9 — El West Side Sound
February 10 — Steven Lee Moya
February 11 — Cami Gee
February 16 — El West Side Sound
February 17 — Steven Lee Moya
February 18 — Hector Gallego
February 23 — El West Side Sound
February 24— Steven Lee Moya
February 25 — DJ Plata

4 San Antonio culinary pioneers win $21K from the Texas Food & Wine Alliance

CULINARY INNOVATION

Texas’ skyrocketing culinary scene is about to get a huge boost. The Texas Food & Wine Alliance’s grant program has awarded $107,500 to 19 culinary innovators around the state. This marks the Alliance’s 11th year providing funding to support culinary projects contributing to local communities.

The award winners were announced in a ceremony at Austin's Holdsworth Center on January 21. A private panel of distinguished culinary experts chose the winners out of 40 grant applications this year. Nine winners hail from Austin, three from Dallas-Fort Worth, three from Houston, and four from San Antonio. The awards range from $1,500 to $10,000, with a special $25,000 grant investment from Austin favorite Tito’s Handmade Vodka in honor of the company’s 25th anniversary. Grant funding will support chefs, farms, and culinary education groups, among others.

Out of the four San Antonio area winners, Talking Tree Farm received the most from the grant program, $6,250 to purchase shipping containers for storage and to buy a solar-powered cold room for their harvests. John Marshall High School’s culinary arts program will use their $5,000 grant to establish a morning café. Agricultural project Habitable Spaces and pasture-raised chicken farm Cielito Lindo Farm also won $5,000 each to purchase equipment or build infrastructure to further their endeavors in the culinary space.

Austin-area winners received the most funding from the grant program, totalling $53,750, while San Antonio winners received $21,250 in total. Dallas/Fort Worth winners were awarded $19,750, and the three Houston recipients won $12,750. All of the 2022 winners reflect just how diverse the state's trailblazing culinary scene continues to expand.

“All of this year’s funded projects will further enrich the state through innovation and giveback,” said Erika White, executive director of the Alliance. “We’re extremely grateful to each of the Texas communities, our sponsors and their support in allowing us to reward these mold-breaking projects.”

In Austin, organic farm Trosi Farms was awarded the most funding ($10,000), which will help construct a germination shed for more stable plant start production. Locavore pioneer Boggy Creek Farm won $7,500 in grants to provide ADA-compliant accessibility to their new climate-controlled Tomato House, while Texas’ first organic feed mill, Coyote Creek Organic Feed Mill & Farm, received $6,250 to help purchase a building to be used as a store for the local community.

The six other Austin area grant recipients, each winning $5,000, include Vista Farms at Vista Brewing, Jamaican family business Tierra Todun ATX, coffee roasters Rising Tide Roast Collaborative, culinary educator Chef Pascal Simon from Bake Austin, East Austin food truck Community Vegan, and Latinx pastry project Comadre Panaderia (who also just earned a James Beard nomination). All winners will be able to use their grants to improve efficiency and expand their businesses, or in Chef Pascal's case, further research and development for her upcoming cookbook for Gen-Z young adults.

After starting the program in Austin, grant co-chair and TFWA past president Cathy Cochran-Lewis says it was the Alliance’s dream to expand the grant statewide.

“We’re so humbled and thrilled to now not only support worthwhile projects across Texas but also to give more than a half million dollars in funding over the last decade to help dreams come true,” she says. “This is a tribute to the culinary talent and the community mindset we are lucky to have in our state.”

The winners in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas include:

For this year's Honorable Mention, the Alliance chose San Antonio eatery Tacos Cucuy, who will soon open a brick-and-mortar space with an expanded menu. Tacos Cucuy are currently looking for support to develop a Tex-Mex charcuterie program called La Cura Carnes Especiales.

More information about the 2022 grants and its recipients can be found on texasfoodandwinealliance.org.