Mamasita opened in February 2010 and quickly established itself as one of Melbourne’s hottest new restaurants. The Mexican craze and idea that a restaurant could have a “no bookings” policy were in their infancy and Mamasita was at the forefront of both. Lines were out the door every night, ushering in a new direction for dining in Melbourne.
5 years on, the Mexican trend is but a memory but Mamasita still remains a fixture on the city’s dining scene. The City Lane sat down with Co-owner and manager Nick Peters to talk about Mamasita’s past, present and future, and to find out just how a restaurant manages to stay relevant after 5 years in the game.
How Has Mamasita Managed To Remain Relevant After 5 Years?
When Mamasita first opened, the plan was for it to be a bar/taqueria serving great drinks with a small, focused menu of authentic Mexican food. Within a few days of opening there were lines out the door and everyone wanted to eat the food that we were serving. We soon realised that the food was going to be the main attraction at Mamasita and changed direction accordingly. It had only been a few days since opening and already Mamasita was adapting.
I joined Mamasita as a Manager 6 months after opening and in that time I’ve tried to ensure that we’ve never rested on our laurels. In order to stay relevant, you have to be willing to adapt. We’ve become much better at managing the queues so that people can get in faster and aren’t waiting around getting frustrated like in the early days. In order to make Mamasita more accessible, we’ve started to take lunch bookings during weekdays and 12:30 lunch bookings on weekends. We understand that a no bookings policy doesn’t work for everyone and have changed things where we can.
Another important part of remaining relevant is making sure that Mamasita is on top of what’s happening in the food scene in Mexico. Every year, one of either myself, Matt (Matt Lane, Co-owner, Ops manager) or Andrew (Andrew Logan, Head Chef) makes sure we get to Mexico and in fact last year all 3 of us managed to get over there. Mexico’s food is steeped in tradition but it’s also dynamic and it’s important to discover and learn what’s going on over there to ensure that our customers in Melbourne continue to get an authentic Mexican food experience. It’s a balancing act between keeping the favourites on the menu and also changing things up by including new dishes.
What Is The Biggest Change You’ve Noticed In Mamasita’s Customers Over The Past 5 Years?
The biggest change I’ve noticed has been the shift in perceptions of what Mexican food and drink are. When Mamasita opened, the “Mexican trend” and the focus on a more authentic Mexican experience were in their infancy and people were still apprehensive about trying certain things. These days, the average Mamasita customer is much more adventurous with what they are willing to try.
The same goes for beverages too. In the early days, there was a stigma around mezcal and tequila as cheap and dirty drinks that you did shots of with your mates. Apart from a few hospitality and industry people who would come in with a sense of adventure, many customers weren’t ready to appreciate that tequila could be so much more than they realised. Mamasita stocks around 150+ mezcals and tequilas today and the perception around these drinks has changed so much. People realise how great and complex agave spirits can be and are keen to expand their palates.
Speaking Of Mezcal, You Recently Acquired A Mezcalier Certification. Can You Tell Us More?
Mezcal is still new to many people in Melbourne. It’s a distilled alcoholic beverage native to Mexico that can be made from around 40 different varieties of maguey (agave), and is tequila’s divine cousin. Most mezcal is made in Oaxaca (pronounced Wahaca) and that’s where I attained my certification. I thought I had a pretty good understanding of mezcal before attaining my certification but the experience was mind blowing – I learned so much, plus it was fun sitting an exam in Spanish!
In short, the course covered the history of mezcal (there’s both a native version and a Spanish post conquest version) how to cook and mix drinks with mezcal, the stages of production, the characteristics and nuances of various maguey species, and how all aspects of the mezcal production process – everything from terroir to the kind of wild yeast living in your palenque – can affect the final taste.
How Has What You Learned Being Incorporated Into What Mamasita Does?
We have expanded our mezcal range and are starting to experiment with mezcal in our cooking.The knowledge we now have about mezcal has also flowed down to our staff. All our staff receive 2 weeks of training no matter what their role at Mamasita is and this training for FOH staff is now starting to include a lot more about mezcal.
Something else that we’ve realised is that if we want customers to appreciate mezcal in the same way that we do, we really need to make a dedicated effort. To that end, we are looking at training some specialised “agave sommeliers”. In the same way that a wine sommelier has an encyclopaedic knowledge of, and passion for wine, we want to be able to offer the same experience to our customers for mezcal.
You Launched “Mamasita Escuela” Last Month. What’s That All About?
We’ve had this idea floating around for a while now and it’s all part of our desire to pass our knowledge and passion of Mexican food and drink on to those in Melbourne who are interested. The obvious one is through the food and drinks that we serve at Mamasita but we’re always looking at ways that we can do more.
The Mamasita Escuela (School) is held on the last Wednesday of every month between 4 and 5 pm. We always have staff training during this time each Wednesday but once a month we open it up to the public. It’s completely free and allows anyone who is interested to come along and train with our staff. The topic for the first Mamasita Escuela was mezcal production and attendees sampled various mezcals and learned about the different flavour components and what to look for in a mezcal.
In fact this Wednesday (1 April 2015) we’re aiming to put on a special agave session with Philadelphia-based David Suro-Piñera, who is one of the world’s foremost tequila/mezcal experts. It’ll be at 3:30pm and any any of your readers who are interested should definitely come along as it’s going to be amazing.
Any Final Words?
If I can go back to your question about relevance, I guess we want to make sure our staff are on top of their game when it comes to being up-to date on what’s happening in Mexico’s food scene, tequila and mezcal means that we can ensure that our customers have a great experience when they come into Mamasita at all levels. Everything that we do is a building block towards ensuring that our customers walk away happy with their experience at Mamasita. If we can achieve that, then we’ve done our job.