As Edmonton’s culinary scene continues to flourish, there’s one thing Edmontonians know for sure: Where to find the best taco.
Ask anyone. You’ll repeatedly hear, without hesitation, Tres Carnales. An elaboration on Rostizados, its sister restaurant offering unique Latin American cuisine, is often a part of the same conversation. When you walk into either, you’re instantly transported to León, Mexico (home of Poppy Barley shoes). The Latino music is playing loudly in the background, the decor is vibrant and lively, and you may be greeted by one of the three owners. Today, it’s Daniel Braun.
Within the first two minutes, he offers me a shot of tequila and asks if he can make me something to eat. He proceeds to pull out his phone to show me a video of a leather factory in León, his hometown, and about his grandfather who owned a well known leather tannery there. In the latest instalment of In His Shoes, find out Dani’s approach to dining, what life is REALLY like in León, and the Mexican cure to a hangover.
Edmonton, AB | Hometown: León, Mexico
Poppy Barley style(s) I own:
Tell us about your connection to the shoemaking industry in León.
[My grandfather] passed away in 1982, I was six years old. After he passed, his tannery was sold by the family to Reebok. At the time and for many years, he had the largest tannery in all of Latin America. I use to love going to the tannery and have very fond memories of going to his house for all of our family gatherings.
I’ve heard that most businesses in Mexico are family businesses, passed onto the next generation; they create a legacy. Do you find that in León?
Definitely, that still happens. Many of my friends still follow in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents. They tend to have a few more kids than just one or two. Like, my mom’s family is made up of 14 brothers and sisters, and I think I have 94 cousins in total. Many of them I don’t know. If I saw them on the street I wouldn’t recognize them, and wouldn’t know who they were. Typically, either the whole family is involved in the business or the eldest takes over the business. That is what happened with my family at the beginning, but unfortunately when my grandfather passed, they decided to sell the tannery because my grandfather left some pretty big shoes to fill. He was very well respected by the family and is remembered very fondly to this day for everything that he did.
When did you leave León?
My mom is Mexican, my dad is German. They met while my mother was studying abroad in Germany. They got married, I was born in Germany, and about a year and a half later we moved to León, Mexico. I grew up in León until I was about 21, and then moved to Puerto Vallarta, because I was really involved with restaurants. The city is mainly a tourist destination, and I actually met my wife while she was vacationing there. From there, I moved for a while to San Francisco with a friend, and then followed my wife to Edmonton in 2001, so we’ve been here for 15 years now.
It’s crazy how life works. When you met your wife in Puerto Vallarta, what were you doing there?
I was working in a chain restaurant that is quite famous among tourists to Mexico. Have you heard of Señor Frogs? They are all a part of the same chain of restaurants, a little more jovial of a restaurant with okay food, but it is more to lift of spirits and to create that party atmosphere. That was my first restaurant job and that lead to working in many different places serving different food from Italian, Brazilian, and now I am here.
Do you think having that background in so many different kinds of foods translates into the food you are creating now?
Definitely, it is nice to have worked in so many different types of food industries and have worked with many great chefs. You always learn something, and I think you can always learn from the bad ones. Maybe you learn what not to do, but you still learn it. It is almost a career that is 27 years this February.
And you still love it?
I still love it. As a kid I saw people in León working at that chain restaurant that I ended up working in, and I saw how fun the restaurant environment was. The idea of the restaurant is to be super laid back, different and fun. I couldn’t believe somebody was serving these delicious BBQ ribs and was having so much fun doing it. That’s when I discovered I didn’t have to be an engineer, doctor, architect or lawyer, which seemed to be the pillars of options that you had back in the day. There was not the variety in the job pool at that time. I thought to myself that there is a lot more available than just those professions, which are all very noble professions, but I felt like my heart was somewhere else. I always joked with my mom because I love tacos and I have always loved going to taco shops. I said, “Mom, when I’m older I want to be a taqueria.” And she would say no, no, no. There is this a stigma with running a taco shop, that the person running the shop doesn’t have an education and is somewhat low class. Thankfully, food has evolved quite a bit and there are many ways of presenting it.
I had the dream since I moved to Canada to open a Mexican restaurant, I wasn’t exactly sure what though. After working with a couple of Canadian companies, I kind of got an idea of how the market works here. I was lucky to meet my two business partners who shared the same passion for food as I do, and I was also very lucky that they really loved Mexican, almost as much as me (I am the only Mexican in the group!). We set out to open the first taqueria and we knew it was great, and we had a good idea that people were going to respond well because it was delicious. We had no idea it was going to boom as big as it did and have this amazing response, not only from Edmontonians, but from people coming to visit from all over Canada and abroad. In the first year we started by sitting 65,000, and last year we sat over 110,000 in a 40-seat restaurant.
It is crazy! It is a testament to how excited Edmontonians are to try something new, and that revolution of people with new ideas, not only in my industry, but, for example, with Poppy Barley. There is something in the air where people with great ideas want to do something different in Edmonton. It has become sort of a hot spot for entrepreneurs, and I think it is still brewing. Now with the arena here, and the entertainment and restaurants that are coming, it is just becoming the city that Edmonton, I think, deserves and that Edmontonians want. It is an exciting time for us to be here.
And I think that is only going to grow, and it will only get busier as the arena opens.
Definitely, crazy busy. Not all 18,000 people that go to the arena are going to be able to sit [at our restaurants], but I think that we will appeal to the people that really want that Mexican experience that is different. Because that is what we offer here at Rostizados, it is a modern take on Mexican. It is based on traditional recipes, but we are not afraid to utilize techniques and ingredients that are not usually utilized in Mexico and play a little more with it. Add a little grain of salt to that culinary rouging that I think any restaurant or any cuisine in the world has. The taco shop [Tres Carnales], for example, will remain as traditional street food, because we believe in maintaining that personality and that initial idea. We try to push it forward as much as we can and hopefully we can open more establishments and bring new delicious food and cool ideas.
What do you see for the future for your restaurants?
The option to open up another place came up about a year ago, just next door to us. It didn’t seem like the right time though, because of all of the economical events that happened in Alberta, which I think we are experiencing a little bit this year. Our business and many other businesses, which are quite open and candid, helps you make not better business decisions, but makes you feel that you are not the only one going through this, and it’s going to get better, and we are going to get out of this sooner rather than later. The sales have gone down a little bit in general, but the funny thing is that at Rostizados we have managed it so well, with our structure and protocols, that we actually made more money this year than the initial. The first year, there is always some kind of loss especially in this industry. We work in very small margins, so you have to be quite aware of the cost of your food and labour because it can affect your business greatly. We have a really great team that has helped us maintain the quality of food and standards in the hearts of all our guests. I think this has helped us remain present in the elections of people as they go out for dinner. There are going to be a lot of new options opening up around here, which I don’t think is a bad thing, I think the more options there are to dine, the more people are going to come. Then it is anyone’s business. I think we offer something very unique and delicious, and it’s not only the food, but the whole experience. That is why I think that people come: you get greeted by Chris who buys you a shot of tequila, then shows you our new ancho chili liqueur that you need to try. We are excited by what we have to offer and want you to experience it, so you get a piece of what I grew up with in Mexico. Maybe you don’t need to make a full trip to Mexico, you buy your Poppy Barley shoes, and then you eat a nice Mexican meal. How about that? We should make it a combo!
What do you love about owning restaurants?
When somebody gives food, you give a little bit of yourself, even when you are serving. Like in this interview, I am trying to tell you how I feel and how I see things. It is something very personal and something very beautiful when it happens. It is nice when people come here and see that love really shining through. Those are the customers I enjoy most, the ones that allow us to tour them through. That is how I go to any restaurant. I try to not have a pre-notion of this is how it is going to be. I usually say, “What is it that you best specialize on and what are you best at. Just bring me whatever you think is right.” You’d be surprised at how amazing it is when you let a restaurant do what they are supposed to be doing, instead of you thinking you don’t want this and want to change that. Because it ceases to be the original dish, and I think that it loses that beauty and love that it was originally meant to have.
That is such an interesting way to order, I am going to have to start doing that when I go to restaurants.
Like, when I went to Poppy Barley, I say what do you guys recommend and you told me this, this and this. You are the experts!
Can you tell us a bit about what León as a city is like?
It’s the fifth largest city in Mexico, right in the centre of the Republic. It’s warm, dry and can get quite cold. It has a little over 2 million people. The main industry was leather and still is to a great degree and also other leather goods such as shoes. We call it El Zapatero in Mexico – it’s a shoe city. People used to come to León in buses, buy a load of shoes, and then bring them to their own cities to sell. It is a city where a lot of my friends and family live, that I remember fondly and go back as often as I can. They have amazing food. Some of the best tacos I have had in my life, among other specialities that only exist in León, with the pork rind and avocado. That is supposed to cure a hangover.
Yes it is, because it is so spicy, that’s how you cure hangovers in Mexico. You don’t suit it with something fatty or greasy like you do here in Canada. We basically shock it with chili, it is a shock to the senses that wakes you up.
Do you believe in it? Does it really work?
It really does.
Thank you so much for your time.
No thank you, it was a pleasure meeting you. Would you like to take home anything for food?