Pilsen Tamale Chefs Hope Kickstarter Donations Will Make Their 'Day'
PILSEN — Gourmet tamales will soon be for sale on 18th Street, if three friends can persuade Chicago foodies to ante up $30,000 in exchange for a year's worth of tamales or pork products delivered to their door.
Dia De Los Tamales (Day of the Tamales) is the brainchild of husband and wife team Sam and Jeni Wahl along with their friend and chef Keith Carlson.
To raise enough money to open up their tamale shop at 939 W. 18th St., the trio has given potential investors multiple mouth-watering options on Kickstarter. The deadline is Feb. 22.
A cool $500 gets you a dozen gourmet tamales every month for a year. If you’ve got another $500 laying around, you and seven friends can opt for a catered tailgate party, complete with beer and homemade food.
A $1,000 donation will initiate you into the Swine of the Month Club, which means homemade pork products — complete with condiments — delivered right to your door for a year.
If you can only dig up $75, you still get two dozen tamales along with a Dia De Los Tamales hooded sweatshirt.
While hot tamales will be sold at the store’s front counter, behind the scenes the trio will also be readying goods for their catering company, Get Off The Couch Catering.
The company actually has its roots in the city's music scene.
The Wahls originally met in Chicago, but lived in different states at the time, Jeni in Florida and Sam in Tennessee. Eventually, the two married and moved to the city in 2007.
Both have music backgrounds: Sam plays guitar and performs with the band Wives of Eli, and Jeni used to market bands. Eventually, along with Keith Carlson, they started Get Off the Couch, a monthly concert that was originally held at Villains Bar in the same building as the Wahls’ apartment. (It's now held at The Ace Bar, 1505 W. Fullerton Ave.)
When the bands finished playing at Villians, they often hung out at the Wahls' apartment upstairs.
“Feeding the musicians that were coming to play at Get Off The Couch just seemed like the right thing to do,” Jeni Wahl said.
That led the couple to start Get Off The Couch Catering, which has served musicians and others at events arond the city for the past year and a half. Last summer, their tamales could be found every week at the Pilsen Community Farmers Market and they also catered backstage for k.d. lang's May show at the Harris Theater.
After they found a storefront in Pilsen to operate the catering business from, the three friends knew they needed to think beyond that aspect of the company.
“We knew we had to do something and one of us came up with tamales, and we were like, ‘Yep, that’s the one,’” said Jeni Wahl, who is Cuban-American, grew up in Miami, speaks Spanish and helped develop the recipe for the tamales.
When the shop opens, Dia De Los Tamales will have about 10 to 12 tamale staples along with several rotating specials.
That includes: Buffalo Chicken, with buffalo sauce baked directly into the masa surrounding the filling; the Juicy Lucy, a cheeseburger tamale with a special sauce; and the Atomic Pork, made with Carlson’s homemade ghost pepper hot sauce.
“The secret is, over-flavor your tamales,” Carlson said. “When you bite into it, you enjoy the tamale, but you also enjoy the tamale’s namesake. So the buffalo chicken should taste like buffalo chicken.”
Dia De Los Tamales will combine American comfort food with Hispanic tradition, according to Jeni Wahl.
“That’s what Pilsen is right now. It’s kind of a melting pot of those groups,” she said.