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When Shannon Bazan became a vegetarian, her New Mexico born-and-raised mother wasn’t sure how to take it.
“I told my mom I was going to be a vegetarian and she didn’t believe me,” Shannon said. “She didn’t think that I would be willing to not eat carne adovada and chicharrones, all these other New Mexican dishes.”
But with almost 40 years working in the restaurant industry, Shannon’s mother, Sally Bazan, was up to the challenge of adapting her recipes to a vegetarian diet.
“In the beginning, I didn’t think I could do it,” Sally said. “But I figured we have Sunday dinners and she’s gonna sit there looking at us, and we’ve got to make her something. And at first, I’m sure it didn’t taste as good as it does now, but I’ve found ways of making different things taste good together.”
That experimentation turned into an idea to make a restaurant specializing in vegetarian New Mexican classics.
“A big reason why I think that more recently we decided to come up with the business was because I wanted to have traditional New Mexican food inclusive to vegetarians,” Shannon Bazan said.
Tamales, Sally Bazan said, are particularly well-suited to vegetarian fillings.
“You can stick anything in a tamale as long as it tastes good,” Sally Bazan said. “If it tastes good on a plate, you can stick it in a tamale – I’ve even put rice in a tamale.”
The Bazans enrolled at Street Food Institute and started their business, Masa. They recently completed a season at Rail Yards Market, selling tamales, gorditos (which Sally Bazan nicknamed “gordos” because they’re so big) and nachos borrachos. They would often sell out. Due to the success of the 8 feet by 8 feet stand, they’ll be debuting a catering menu in January for weddings and other events.
Masa isn’t the Bazans’ first restaurant endeavor. Her and her daughter started a catering business when Shannon was a sophomore in high school. They ran the business over summer vacation, but come fall, Sally was unable to continue.
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“When she went back to school, I couldn’t do it alone,” Sally Bazan said. “So I just never tried again. We talke
xd about it through the years. … It was always something that I wanted to do.”
But between family help — Shannon’s fiance takes orders at the Rail Yards — and support from SFI, Bazan said she’s confident in the new business.
“I see people out there just like me doing it, and I know I can do it,” Sally Bazan said.
Sally has been a kitchen manager at the Barrett Foundation, which provides shelter and services to homeless women and children, for 12 years.
“I walked in the doors and I knew that was the place I was supposed to be,” Bazan said. “And I love it.”
She’s continued working there during the weekdays, and an assistant helps on the weekend so she can concentrate on Masa.
For the holidays, the Bazans will be making and selling frozen tamales at the Rail Yards Holiday market.
“Cooking traditional New Mexican food is a dying art,” Sally Bazan said. “I think that you can’t learn that in books and that’s why people come in and buy the food that we make, because it tastes like grandma’s or like their auntie’s or whoever made it for them when they were a child.”