Local community is the special ingredient that turns your city and neighborhood into a home base. We interviewed a few businesses that are making a big impact in the Chicago area. We spoke with the Co-founders of Masa Madre, a Mexican-Jewish bakery that grew with only online orders.
Photo Credit: Jeff Marini for Chicago Magazine
Meet Tamar Fasja Unikel and Elena Vázquez Felgueres, the Co-founders of Masa Madre, an online Mexican-Jewish bakery in Pilsen, Chicago. The duo both moved to Chicago with a passion for local cuisine and decided to start their own bakery in 2018. On a mission to merge their favorite Jewish recipes with the influence of their Mexican backgrounds, they are leading a thriving (and delicious) online business. We caught up with them to learn more about what it takes to make a bakery business thrive through strictly online orders.
Hi Tamar and Elena! To start off, can you tell us a bit more about the origin story of Masa Madre?
While it may seem counterintuitive to found a bakery business 100% online, we started Masa Madre in 2018 with no money or outside funding. Our goal was to grow our business with as little overhead cost as possible, so an online store was the perfect option for us! We both originally met in Mexico and bonded over our love of baking. Once we moved to Chicago, we were inspired to fuse these two cultures by recreating our favorite Jewish pastries with Mexican flavors. While we aren’t officially certified as kosher, we only use kosher ingredients, and this has been an amazing way to connect with the Jewish community as well.
How did your customers find you initially with a 100% online business?
It was definitely a new concept for some people to order fresh baked goods online, but this has also allowed us to grow an audience across the country! Our world is so connected that once we built a reputation, we started to have a constant stream of orders from Instagram and Facebook. One of the biggest challenges with this is connecting with our older customers who aren’t as comfortable with social media, but we are happy to take phone orders from them as well!
You mentioned that involvement in your local community is a core value of your business. How does this show up in your day-to-day business?
One goal of ours is to move towards sourcing all of our ingredients locally. We also have partnered with other local shops to offer pickup locations, which gives them an increase in foot traffic and lowers shipping costs on our end! In addition, we’re always catering local events and offering workshops at local shops in the community. Masa Madre is just as involved in the local Pilsen community as we are nationally online, which is an incredible privilege of our current interconnected culture.
How does Masa Madre prioritize a low-waste and sustainable approach to the business?
While we were working in the restaurant industry, the amount of food waste appalled us–huge bags of trash filled with fresh bread were thrown out every night! To be fair, our past employers wanted to donate the baked goods, but the city regulations at the time wouldn’t allow them to. At Masa Madre, we tried to solve this problem by only fulfilling custom orders from our customers. Everything is baked-to-order, which cuts down on food waste almost completely. Our online business allows us to be flexible in this way without sacrificing quality and freshness. We’re able to predict our exact orders and deliver freshly made goods to our customers the day they are made.
Masa Madre is a completely women-owned and run business! What have been some additional challenges you both have had to overcome in this context?
As a woman in this industry, we’ve been questioned and dismissed. The archaic idea that “women should stay home and bake” has influenced others to not take our business seriously. Our biggest advice for other women to work against this: do it anyway! It can be intimidating to stand up to those who don’t believe in your vision for a business, but we wouldn’t be where we are today if we had listened to the negative comments of others.