America is a national melting pot that celebrates a diverse landscape of cultures and histories. In Utah, we are lucky to share in a rich tapestry of immigrant diversity for all manner of reasons—from the pursuit of education or prosperity to family and safety concerns. This tapestry comes to life every Saturday at the Downtown Farmers Market.
When the Downtown Farmers Market kicks off its summer season on June 11, 2016, shoppers can experience, first hand, the traditions and history of so many “transplanted” Utahns simply by walking through Pioneer Park and sharing in the offerings of these vendors who bring their culture to market each Saturday. We invite you to meet three of the Downtown Salt Lake City Farmers Market regular favorites—Argentina’s Best Empanadas, Tuscan Accent and Bona Parte.
Argentina’s Best Empanadas
Argentina’s Best Empanadas founder Ana Valdemoros arrived in Utah from Cordoba, Argentina 16 years ago to get an education in city planning at the University of Utah. She got involved with city government and the non-profit world as well but she never forgot her roots.
“I love my profession and also love making empanadas,” she explains. “I always try to marry the two, and as a city planner with some culinary traits, I am always trying to find ways to build community. Food is always a great connector.”
Her fondest childhood memories involve empanadas so the decision to make empanadas and begin Argentina’s Best Empanadas several years ago was natural. “Empanadas are just part of our life. Grandma, mom, uncle, our friend’s mom, the pizza guy, the store at the corner—everyone makes empanadas. Especially during the weekends, empanadas are always present.”
That’s why every Saturday in the summer, you’ll find Argentina’s Best Empanadas at the Downtown Farmers Market—their main outlet for sales. “I wanted to share a little bit of my culture with our community here on Saturdays,” Valdemoros continues. “For those new to them, to provide a quality product, handmade with locally sourced ingredients. For those that were familiar with Argentine empanadas, to bring them back to some of those happy memories they may have collected when in Argentina or with Argentine people.”
While Argentina’s Best Empanada began offering traditional beef empanadas, their flavors have since grown to meet consumer demands. “We incorporated vegetarian ones, ham and cheese (popular with children) and spicy lamb (popular with lamb lovers and followers of Morgan Valley Lamb).” But by far their most successful product is breakfast empanadas which sell throughout the day. “I realized how important it is to listen to our customers and think outside of the box,” she says. “Now they are my second favorite kind.” Shoppers can also purchase sweet empanadas including Nutella/banana, pumpkin cheesecake and banana dulce de leche.
Valdermoros feels particularly welcomed at the Downtown Farmers Market because of the move to eat clean and fresh foods, locally made and sourced. “The market is a venue where we can showcase our handmade products and provide diversity to the food scene in our community. I love working with the meat and vegetable vendors to get our ingredients that I know are grown in Utah.”
And what does Valdemoros have in store this year? The new Square Kitchen, which she helped found, will provide accessible and affordable commercial kitchen space to budding food entrepreneurs and plans to open this summer. She also hopes to keep expanding Argentina’s Best Empanadas too. “We keep contemplating the idea of opening a storefront and we’ll be really aggressive in looking for one.”
Hailing from Pisa, Italy, Loriano Tolaini is an old world craftsman. His business, Tuscan Accent, is located in Bountiful but every Saturday you’ll find his custom-crafted Italian leather purses, messenger bags and even motorcycle saddlebags in the craft section of the Downtown Farmers Market.
According to Loriano’s daughter-in-law, Mariangela Tolaini, the family business has enjoyed nearly a decade of new and repeat customers from the market throughout the summer months. “A lady from Wales comes and visits her daughter here every summer and she comes to the market the first or second Saturday of the market to look for us and she buys a bag,” Mariangela says. “It’s become a tradition.”
That tradition and long-time support from customers are what inspire the Tolaini family to pack up their entire inventory (somewhere between 100-120 bags) each Saturday and share Loriano’s art with the city. “Loriano’s creativity and quality have been appreciated and it’s opened us up to be known in the valley by customers in Salt Lake and everywhere,” Mariangela explains. The value of the market is in bringing so many people who “appreciate the handcrafted items that are sold there.”
Mariangela and her husband Massimo are pleased that their teenage son is learning the leatherworking trade from his grandfather and may eventually pick up where Loriano leaves off. “That’s our direction,” she says. “We’ve been playing with color and one-of-a-kind and it’s become more of an art than just the leather trade. Loriano’s bags are like a piece of art.”
But even in today’s mass-produced consumer industry, the Tolaini family sees plenty of opportunity to continue to grow. “We make quality bags and the practicality of it makes them a viable product,” Mariangela continues. “Everyone needs a bag but people who buy from us want something that will be treasured and cherished. It has character and it will be a piece to keep for many years to come.”
The fact that Loriano’s work is found and appreciated all over the world is testament enough but Mariangela confirms that the exposure Tuscan Accent receives at the Downtown Farmers Market is critical to their business. “This involvement with the market has made such a difference to us,” she concludes. “The market has been the steady focus point and people believe in our little company. It’s becoming, for us, a tradition.”
You could say that Miro Bako was ahead of his time when he arrived in Utah.
Having worked in the hospitality business in Italy, Switzerland and, for a decade under Germany’s best chef, the late 1990s found Bako contemplating a return to Croatia to open his own restaurant. But in an instant he says, he found himself and his wife moving to America and making a home in Salt Lake City where their son was born a short time later.
After arriving here, they opened Atlantic Café & Mediterranean Market on Main Street in 1998. It was a difficult time because Salt Lake diners were perhaps not ready for the kind of experience the downtown restaurant offered. “Today it is a different place with great restaurants and bars, but in 1998, trying to sell real prosciutto and mozzarella sandwiches with a glass of wine and imported beer instead of selling processed meats and cheese and diet soda on the first sidewalk patio dining in town was a hard business,” he recalls.
Times changed and after selling Atlantic Café in 2010, Bako devoted his energies to his family, other sandwich shops and a catering business called Bona Parte (meaning better part), focusing on simple preparations and fresh foods. “We are trying to simplify and make food the way it was made a long time ago using natural farm meats, garden produce, sea salt, olive oil and spices with fresh baked bread.”
The venture has been met with positive response and you’ll find Bona Parte at the Downtown Farmers Market each Saturday sharing their love of ethnic ingredients sourced from local stores, high-quality olive oils, local lamb from Morgan Valley Lamb, homemade sausage, bread and sauces along with summer soups and yogurt drinks.
“The Downtown Farmers Market is a great platform to present our catering business and to reach more people and community,” continues Bako. “Our customer base is growing and asking for a permanent place. We are hoping for the right opportunity.” His plans this year include utilizing the farmers market as an “incubator for our next restaurant, The Farmers Grill, which will offer fresh, healthy and simple cooking year-round with good wine and crafted beers, music and happy people.”