A face long-familiar at one of Montreal's most popular restaurants is about to branch out and give Sud-Ouest Montreal a taste of her home country. Sandra Soto, a veteran of Olive et Gourmando (and partner of Dyan Solomon, co-owner of both Olive et Gourmando and Foxy), will soon open Torteria Lupita on Notre-Dame Ouest across from Parc Sir-George-Étienne-Cartier. Soto recently spoke about why her new torta shop is a love letter to both Mexico and family.
How did this project come about?
I've been involved in restaurants since I was 16, first in Mexico City, and then here. As a teenager I loved to work in restaurants in the summer. I loved kitchens but I loved the front of house best. My mom is a very good cook. She always told me that whatever you're going to do in life, learn how to cook, and you'll be saved. My brother owns Tacos Victor, and we grew up in a very traditional Mexican family. Our weekends were all about family. I have about 60 cousins, my mother has 11 brothers and sisters, and my grandfather was a very good cook too. Barbacoa was my grandfather's specialty. It takes a long time to prepare. While we would wait there was a lot of singing, playing guitar, and drinking.
When did you come to Montreal?
I came here at 18 years old. My parents were a little tired of the corruption in Mexico City, and the lack of opportunities. They decided to move on, to give their kids a better life. They were 40 years old, and they started from zero. It was a very tough time for them. I was sad because my friends were in Mexico, but I was excited to learn another language. I learned French in about 10 months. I went to CEGEP, I moved to France, I met somebody, and lived in Paris for almost two years. I had the opportunity to work in an amazing restaurant that taught me everything. When I came back I went to the sommelier program at the ITHQ. I fell in love with wine in France, and I lived in Montpelier for four months.
When did you start at Olive et Gourmando? How did that prepare you for this venture?
When I came back from Paris. I learned a lot there. This October would be my seven-year anniversary there. I never experienced a place like Olive. It's a very unique restaurant. You don't see many places like that, even in New York. Olive captured something very strange and special. It's an amazing school. I learned everything about quality and consistency. It's very difficult because it serves a lot — a LOT — of people. But the quality of the food stays the same. That's the most valuable thing I learned.
Why did you decide to focus on tortas?
I can't do anything else but Mexican. The truth is that my roots are Mexican, and I can't deny it, nor do I want to. My idea is to offer customers amazing products, very well done, and affordable. A place to hang out with friends and family, enjoy good food and drink, and not spend $100. It's tortas but sides too, like tortilla soup, pozole eventually, a salad with lime, mango, and Tajín seasoning, and some other items. We want to use Quebec products — like cheese curds for our fundido — combined with Mexican flavours. We'll buy our peppers and tomatillos from Fanny at Atwater Market. I want to work with seasonal ingredients — a lot of Mexican places buy corn in February, but not us.
Can you talk about the space?
It's in Saint-Henri, not far from Campanelli, on the corner of Thérien and Notre-Dame, next to the big church facing the park. I'm very lucky. I rented it from some cool, visionary people. They don't want a Starbucks or anything like that. It has about 40 seats, but I want to do a lot of takeout meals for the park. My brother Victor helped a little with the renovations and consulting, and my mom [Lupita, the restaurant's namesake] and my sister are working with me, in the kitchen. I'll run the front of house. I'm really happy to be working with them. When you have a big family, nothing is difficult.
Will the restaurant sell alcohol? And what kind of tortas will you serve?
Yes, we'll serve beer and wine probably, but a very small list. For sure beer, and maybe a bit of tequila. But it won't be a bar, it's definitely more of a family restaurant. In terms of tortas we'll serve a milanesa — but with a chicken cutlet, not veal — steak, and chorizo. We'll also serve flautas — tinga de pollo (shredded chicken cooked with adobado peppers and tomato sauce), lamb barbacoa, and potato. If everything goes well, we'll probably open the first week of July.