Molino Oloyo is Transforming the Dallas Food Scene with Heirloom Corn

Last updated on April 23rd, 2024 at 11:54 am

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Olivia Lopez, the owner of Molino Oloyo, has recently made waves in the Dallas food scene with her pop-up focused on heirloom corn and authentic Mexican cuisine. Lopez grew up in the Mexican state of Colima, raised by her mother and grandmother, who was the main cook. By the time she was 14, Lopez was already cooking herself, and her approach became more serious after her grandmother passed away.

Instagram/Elizabeth Mary Lavin

When it was time for her to attend university in Colima, she found that there was no culinary program available, so she studied marketing for the next three years.

Lopez continued to dream of culinary school. That dream brought her to Dallas just two days before her 20th birthday.

“The Mexican food that I found was very different from the one I grew up eating,” she says. “It took me some time to understand.”

Since traveling to Monterrey and the state of Coahuila, she’s realized that Texas Mexican food was heavily influenced by Northern Mexican traditions.

“I thought to myself, ‘if there is a representation of that food here, why not have a representation of what Mexican food is for me?’” Lopez says. That meant tamales over tacos, to start.

Instagram/Elizabeth Mary Lavin

After working in various Dallas restaurants as a fine-dining chef, Lopez returned to Mexico to research heirloom corn. The plan was to take what she learned and bring it back to Dallas.

When the Tastemaker Awards announced her as one nominee for the ‘2021 Rising Star Chef’ category, she took it as motivation to start her long-dreamed-of project. Her mother, a business owner herself, encouraged Lopez to showcase the food she loved most.

With her savings and the support of her partner, Jonathan, Lopez acquired the kitchen space that became the headquarters of her business, Molino Oloyo. Molino Oloyo opened its doors in August of 2021. A “molino” is a traditional Mexican mill used for grinding grains, particularly corn.

Though she’d planned on this venture for years, not many understood it. Plenty of people in the restaurant business have the misconception that Mexican food is “cheap food.”

“The response was always ‘No, it’s not going to work. No, it’s not the right time’”, Lopez explains.

Molino Oloyo

She moved into the kitchen with only one molino and three pots. Two were to be used for the corn, and one for the tamales.

Lopez and Jonathan source heirloom corn from small Mexican farms, then nixtamalize and grind it in-house to achieve high-quality masa. Nixtamalization is a traditional Mesoamerican process that involves soaking and cooking corn in an alkaline solution, which makes it easier to grind and improves its nutritional content.

“All heirloom corn is different,” Lopez says. “They all cook differently and grind differently. They all have different densities. It’s about getting to understand the grain itself.”

She finds it especially rewarding to support farmers and ranchers, not only from Mexico, but from Texas as well.

“We’re happy with what we’re putting on the table for our guests,” says Lopez.

Her intention is to make heirloom corn accessible to everyone, whether it’s the person buying tortillas, the family hiring them to cater a dinner, or one of their restaurant guests.

Lopez prepares seasonal Mexican food. Two moles on her menu are traditional moles of Colima and the kind that her grandmother used to cook. They include the guajillo mole for chicken tamales and a traditional street mole for their enchiladas. The moles are accompanied by her grandmother’s arroz blanco. Everything else on her menu changes according to the seasons.

She also makes vegetarian creations, like the fall/winter tamal, which consists of sweet potatoes and a vegetarian picadillo of golden raisins, almonds, carrots, onion, and garlic. The idea was inspired by her grandmother’s own picadillo recipe.

“They are probably not the most traditional thing, but the masa and the quality of the product are,” says Lopez.

Molino Oloyo

Molino Oloyo’s products are sold through their Instagram and they offer catering. Pre-order sales include tortillas, tamales, salsas, and other seasonal rotating items.

You can also find Molino Oloyo products in street pop-up shops and local restaurants. Many of Lopez’s former chef co-workers have allowed her to host course-style dinners in their restaurants. Her food has made appearances in Mot Hai Ba and Las Almas Rotas Mezcaleria.

Molino Oloyo

Lopez and Jonathan hope to have a storefront and restaurant someday, but so far, people’s responses humble them. Most of their customers return. That connection is rewarding.

“Mexican food is very friendly and very welcoming,” says Lopez. “The food and the ingredients speak for themselves.”

For more on the Dallas food scene, check out our guide to the best DFW tamales and our feature on Encanto Pops.

Featured image: @elizabethmarylavin