Estela's Fresh Mex in Iowa City honors grandmother

New venture grew out of experience with Mami's

A grilled chicken with pico de gallo, black beans, Spanish rice, spinach and avocado at Estela’s Fresh Mex in Iowa City on Monday, October 23, 2017. The grilled chicken and steak can be grilled with onions, jalapenos and pico de gallo. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
A grilled chicken with pico de gallo, black beans, Spanish rice, spinach and avocado at Estela’s Fresh Mex in Iowa City on Monday, October 23, 2017. The grilled chicken and steak can be grilled with onions, jalapenos and pico de gallo. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

When Tyler Tiecke, Jerry Vasquez and his mother, Elsa de La Paz, wanted to expand their Iowa City restaurant, Mami’s, they knew they wanted to keep one thing the same: They still wanted the name to be in honor of de La Paz’s mother, Estela.

“Everybody says their grandma is the nicest grandma in the world,” Vasquez said. “Estela was.”

So on Oct. 7, not long after closing Mami’s, they opened the doors at Estela’s Fresh Mex a few blocks away.

Estela’s still serves up the fast-casual tacos and burritos Mami’s was known for, but with several upgrades.

“This is an evolution of the previous restaurant that me and my mom opened in 2004,” Vasquez said.

In addition to plenty of room for seating in the new space, which Mami’s never had, they bought a tortilla press to make tortillas fresh to order. They also have a renewed focus on sourcing fresh vegetables and making as much as possible from scratch, from fajita spice mixes to salsas. They also added new meat options, like al pastor, and increased the menu to include breakfast burritos, served all day.

They made enough changes that they decided it was time for a new name, as well.

“We definitely realized there were a lot of things we wanted to add, and by the end of it, it was a completely new restaurant,” Vasquez said.

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Mami’s originally started with Vasquez and de La Paz, with Tiecke coming on board six years ago to help with their plans to sell Mami’s salsas in area grocery stores. Both Vasquez and Tiecke are from Muscatine, where they met in high school. Tiecke later moved to Boulder, Colo., where he opened a second Mami’s location. After Estela’s gets off the ground in Iowa City, he will transition the Boulder store to the new name and model before looking to add a third location in Denver. He said they see potential for more Estela’s franchise locations in the future.

The store’s hours are long: They start serving at 7 a.m. daily and on the weekend stay open past bar close. The early hours have so far attracted more third-shift workers looking for a meal than early risers, Tiecke said. Eventually, they hope to add coffee to their drink selections of sodas and horchatas.

He said he’s glad the restaurant has evolved.

“Companies that stay the same and don’t change fade and die out,” he said.

EAT UP!

WHAT: Estela’s Fresh Mex

WHERE: 184 E. Burlington St., Iowa City

HOURS: 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday to Saturday

DETAILS: (319) 354-6264, facebook.com/EstelasFreshMex

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