The moving story of Tu Casa
Rural Foodies discover and document the chefs, restaurants, bakers, growers, brewers, distillers, and all things food in rural Nebraska. When the Center for Rural Affairs alerted us to the entrepreneurial Zepeda brothers and their prosperous food truck business, Tu Casa, we heard the call and scheduled a summer interview with Arcadio and Ebodio Zepeda. The Zepedas were awarded the Latino Business Center Entrepreneur of the Year for 2015.
Juan Sandoval, the Center for Rural Affairs Latino Business Center director, raved about their unique Guadalajara cuisine. Sandoval said Arcadio and Ebodio Zepeda deliver the fresh, fragrant, and complex flavors of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, cuisine to northern Nebraska.
My conversations with Sandoval sparked a fun and flavorful memory of five days in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city where, after touring the city of fountains and gardens, I explored the Mercado Libertad, among the largest open air markets in the world. I marveled at the rainbow of colors and varieties of fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs, breads and so much more in the market. Guadalajara’s sights impressed me, but the allure of the fresh market is fixed in my memory.
Thinking of the Zepeda brothers recreating the savory smells, flavors and beauty of the Guadalajara cuisine here in Nebraska drew my Columbus, Nebraska, friends and me to their corner in Norfolk, Nebraska, on a morning in mid-June.
First let’s talk cuisine
Arcadio and Ebodio Zepada met us at Tu Casa, and we began talking about their specialty, the cuisine of Guadalajara. According to Arcadio, “fresh” is the operative word when describing the characteristics of Guadalajara cuisine. “Our recipes include beef steak, chicken, pork, and fresh bakery products made locally, and locally grown tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, and cilantro,” he said. “Our rice is great because the ingredients are fresh.”
Arcadio and Ebodio attribute their passion for the food business to their mother who lives in Guadalajara. “Our mother is an amazing cook,” Arcadio said. “When we travel to Mexico, we are most interested in trying new food concepts prepared in small family-owned restaurants because we believe they are the most innovative, and when we try something we like, we return to Nebraska and figure out how it is made.”
Example — the Synchronizer, a savory and unique combination of tortilla, meat, herbs and spices. “We discovered the Synchronizer in a small restaurant in Guadalajara during a visit,” Arcadio said. “We liked it, and when we returned to Norfolk and developed the recipe, we called our mother to ask how she would tweak and tune the recipe to get the flavors we remembered.”
My friends and I tasted the Synchronizer, and the flavors fully satisfy every taste bud, the tortilla has a crackle to the bite, and one taste is not enough. The tacos are filled with fresh tomatoes, onions and spiced with a savory sauce. We were delighted to note that the foods were baked, grilled, toasted, and were not fried. We liked it all, the tortas, the tacos, the enchiladas, the quesadillas, the Synchronizer, the Spanish rice and the beans made with a special recipe and fresh each day.
Now let’s meet the entrepreneurs
Tu Casa was launched eight years ago when Arcadio decided to start his own restaurant. He had been working as a kitchen manager in a popular Mexican restaurant in Norfolk. He set up a canopy at the Norfolk soccer fields for Sunday league play in the summers, and customers gathered to enjoy the food he learned to cook as a youth in Guadalajara. He was familiar with food trucks because his brother, Ebodio, had operated food trucks in California for years. With a loan and business support from the Rural Enterprise Assistance Program (Center for Rural Affairs) and First Bank in Norfolk, Arcadio purchased a food truck from a Florida company and opened Tu Casa.
He started making and selling Guadalajara cuisine from his food truck in the small community of Madison near Norfolk. In 2015, at the request of his many customers who were driving from Norfolk to Madison to buy at Tu Casa, he moved the truck to a lot in Norfolk near a busy intersection.
His brother Ebodio joined him in the business, and together they now serve 12 menu items of authentic Mexican food Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. See their Facebook page for their menu.
The future brings plans to launch a new restaurant
Customers drive long distances to eat at Tu Casa. “We have regular customers who drive from Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island, and a 60-mile radius around Norfolk,” Arcadio said. “People like the food, and the business is growing. After seven years in Norfolk with the Tu Casa food truck, we are moving into a restaurant space because the summers are too hot for some people to stand and wait for their food, and in the winter it is very cold. In the Tu Casa restaurant we will offer more variety on the menu.”
We want to leave you with a recipe from Tu Casa, a gift for our wonderful readers.
Pico de Gallo
a lazy salsa
2 tomatoes, diced
½ onion, diced
½ bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
½ green pepper, diced
1 lime juiced
1 jalapeno, chopped fine
½ tsp. salt
Mix and chill and serve