Uno, Dos, Seis

Since 2012, Erika and Jake Muñoz have transformed Seis Kitchen from a tiny food truck into a full-scale business.

July 11, 2016

In the BusinessIssue 19: July/August 2016

Seis Kitchen caters, runs a brick-and-mortar location at Mercado San Agustín, and operates a food truck, Seis Curbside Kitchen. How did these businesses evolve?

Jake Muñoz: I’ve been in the restaurant business for over 25 years—does that make me sound really old? My first job was as a dishwasher when I was 15, and I’ve been in the restaurant business ever since. Erika has degrees in nutrition and marketing, but eventually we decided that we were at a point in our life journey where we wanted to have our family together, and be creative, and do the things we loved. So, we worked on a concept and menu for the food truck for two years. When we were ready, I quit my job and started running the business full-time.

Erika Muñoz: When we first started the food truck in 2012, we were really attracted to the benefits of being mobile. We could try different locations and test menu items without the costs of a proper brick-and-mortar.

Jake: The idea of Seis Kitchen—seis means six in Spanish—came up because I’m Hispanic and I have family on different sides from all parts of Mexico.

Erika: We’ve also done some traveling in Mexico, and some of my family lived in Mexico City for years. It’s just an amazingly rich country, both culturally and agriculturally, and we discovered so many dishes that weren’t being seen. So, Seis was intended to bring up these really awesome recipes from all of Mexico, which is why we still incorporate dishes from all six, or seis, regions of the country.

Husband-and-wife team Jake and Erika Muñoz started Seis Kitchen as a food truck, but have found a home at the Mercado San Agustín.

Husband-and-wife team Jake and Erika Muñoz started Seis Kitchen as a food truck, but have found a home at the Mercado San Agustín.

As a married couple, how do you divide restaurant responsibilities?

Erika: First, food is a huge part of our life. It’s our passion and our love; we wake up in the morning talking about food. It makes running our restaurant easier when we both share this internal passion and a desire to create really good meals.

Jake: We play to our strengths when it comes to running the business. Erika’s strengths are in marketing and running the behind-the-scenes operations for the restaurant. I run the day-to-day operations. We’ll support each other and give feedback on menu items or marketing campaigns, but we take the lead in what we’re good at.

Erika: Seis is also very important to our family. Our daughter is now 10 years old, and she’s been with us every step of the way. She even helped out in the food truck when she was younger. She’s a great salesperson: who can say no to a 4-year-old?

Jake: Frankly, we just love to eat and talk about food, but we also really love sharing this culture and our heritage with people. When I was a kid, whenever we had weddings or celebrations, we’d have a 10 by 10 pit that was six feet deep with two iron doors that closed on top. We’d throw cuts of beef or whole cow heads in there onto coals, bury them with dirt, and cook them for 24 hours. My family would get together, maybe 50 of us, pull out the heads, and shred the heads to make birria while the rest of our family was cooking beans and homemade flour tortillas. The preparation of the food was part of the festival itself. We still have birria on our menu at Seis today, which always reminds me of family and how food can be a celebration.

How did the transition go from food truck to your brick-and-mortar? What were some of the challenges?

Jake: We have always been thankful to have an amazing team. We were really busy as a food truck, so when we opened here, we had a training process and an idea of what our staff should be and do. From Day 1 at Mercado San Agustín, we quickly realized that we had this great staff who could do an amazing job, but a major challenge was providing the resources for them to do the job like they wanted to do it, especially when we were so busy. We had a line around the corner on our first day of business.

Erika: We make everything here, from marinades to bases, salsas, and sauces. It’s really important to us to keep things fresh, especially since people now are so hyperaware of what they consume. They want real food, and real food that tastes good.

Jake: There’s a challenge with that. It’s very easy to find processed items that have a long shelf life, but to find all of your ingredients broken down in raw form is much more difficult. To this day, we still try to source ingredients that we have to jump through hoops to find. It’s a welcome challenge, though, and one that we’re proud of.

The Carnitas Torta comes with slow-simmered pork, beer-battered green chile, smashed black beans, pickled jalapeños, roma tomato, queso Oaxaca, and Seis-style chipotle crema.

The Carnitas Torta comes with slow-simmered pork, beer-battered green chile, smashed black beans, pickled jalapeños, roma tomato, queso Oaxaca, and Seis-style chipotle crema.

Where do you source your local ingredients?

Jake: We use coffee from Stella Java, the coffee shop across the way [in the Mercado San Agustín]. They’re part of Presta Coffee Roasters, where they roast their beans. You know the roll that was used for your breakfast torta? The local bakery, La Estrella [also in the Mercado] baked that. They make our rolls for tortas and other breads in our kitchen at night. We make some tortillas ourselves, but we also use other local producers. All of our beef is Arizona-grown; it’s all been grown in a 230-mile radius. We use two local produce companies, so a lot of what we get throughout the year is dependent on the growing season.

What are you most proud of about the business you’ve created?

Jake: We’ve been really committed to supporting local businesses and charities. Having our three businesses allows us to give back in a meaningful way. We give as much as we can back to the community, which we’re very proud of.

Erika: You know, even though we’ve grown, Jake and I still are here every day because we want to be. We love food, and we want to educate people on these different savory and delicious ingredients. Even though we’ve been incredibly fortunate to receive plenty of accolades and awards, I think, for me, it’s wonderful to see the customers that have become regular customers. If they eat at the restaurant, they’ll have us there to cater for weddings or other personal moments. At the restaurant, we were packed on Mother’s Day. It’s cool to be part of people’s lives like that, and know that they want to continue consuming our product.

Marguerite Happe is a writer, English teacher, and editor. Follow her on Instagram @margueritehappe.

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