Plans call for a Mexican market near 23rd and Louisiana, with hopes that it becomes a key spot for city’s Hispanic community
photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World
A grocery store with a machine that makes fresh peanut butter can keep me enthralled for hours. Just imagine if a grocery store came equipped with pool tables. If they are next to the snack food aisle, I might bring a tent. Soon, I may get a chance to find out. A local businessman is opening a new Mexican market that will be partially about food, but also about creating a needed gathering place for the Latino community.
Jose “Pepe” Lopez has filed plans with City Hall to open Casa Azteca in The Malls Shopping Center at 23rd and Louisiana streets. Primarily the business will be a Mexican market that has a variety of Latin American produce, along with many brand-name foods that are easy to find in Mexico but harder to do so here.
Lopez, though, wants Casa Azteca — ‘casa’ is the Spanish word for home, after all — to be something greater than a market.
“You know, there is not even a place in Lawrence for the Hispanic community to go and play their own music,” Lopez said.
So, Lopez — who also owns Acapulco Mexican Grill at Bob Billings and Wakarusa Drive — plans to install a jukebox and a couple of pool tables in the back half of the large storefront in the southwest corner of the shopping center.
“I’m trying to put a little bit of everything in this place,” Lopez said. “It is my new adventure.”
Eventually, Lopez plans to have a kitchen in the space, which would allow him to serve some street tacos, tortas and other foods that are less Americanized Tex-mex offerings and more authentic fare popular in many Hispanic communities.
To that end, he already has bought a rotisserie that will allow him to roast a variety of meats and serve tacos al pastor. However, the taco stand element of the business is a Phase 2 plan for the market. He would need to win some city approvals before he could install the kitchen in the location. However, if that process takes too long, Lopez said he may begin cooking some authentic grab-and-go Latino offerings at his Acapulco restaurant and trucking them to Casa Azteca for sale.
In the meantime, there will be plenty of ingredients in stock for you to buy and make your favorite Mexican dishes at home. That will include produce, with a particular emphasis on adding some authentic spice.
“Hopefully we will have all types of peppers,” Lopez said. “Lots of dried peppers.”
The store also will have a number of Mexican brands of household goods. One example: Mexican laundry soap. Lopez said he’d be sure to have that on hand because it fits well with another one of his strategies. The store is just a few doors down from a laundromat in The Malls Shopping Center.
That’s one of the other reasons Lopez wants to try to make the market into a gathering place. He figures people would rather play a game of pool and listen to some Latino music and maybe grab a taco and a Mexican soda than watch the dryer tumble. There you go. Tumble and Tacos would be a great name. (And to think, some people in my house claim I don’t know the first thing about doing laundry.)
Lopez hopes to get the business started soon, but he’s running into a problem that many homeowners also are facing: The pandemic has made getting appliances difficult. Lopez said he has several refrigerators on order that he needs to receive before opening. But he hopes that will be this week.
He projected the addition of a taco and Mexican food stand to the business might take three or four months to develop. He said he’d also be looking to add a meat counter to the business, if he sees a demand for it from customers.
Casa Azteca will be at least the second Mexican market in operation in Lawrence. La Estrella has been open for about 20 years, but it recently has moved and is in the process of moving again. It currently operates at 2210 Iowa St., while its large, permanent home is being remodeled at 2323 Ridge Court, which is the old First Med building about a block southeast of 23rd and Iowa streets.
I don’t know that I would call the opening of a second market a new Hispanic trend in Lawrence, though. Lopez said he simply wanted to provide greater choice in the market. But it did cause me to become curious about how large Lawrence’s Hispanic population has become.
The short answer is Lawrence has a significant Hispanic community of several thousand residents, but Hispanics are a smaller share of the city’s population than in many other places across Kansas. Plus, the growth of the Hispanic population in Lawrence has been about half as fast as it has been for the state as a whole over the last 10-plus years.
Just under 7% of Lawrence’s population is Hispanic, according to 2019 American Community Survey Census data. That compares to a statewide total of 12.2%. Back in 2010, Lawrence’s Hispanic community made up 6% of the city’s population, meaning its share of the population grew by just less than 1 percentage point. Statewide, though, the Hispanic share of the population grew by about 1.7 percentage points.
Here’s a look at how Lawrence’s Hispanic population compares to some of the other large cities in the state:
Lawrence: 6,813 people; 6.9% of population
Topeka: 20,916 people; 16.7% of population
Kansas City, Kan.: 47,619 people; 31.2% of population
Wichita: 64,528 people; 16.5% of population
Manhattan: 3,916 people; 7.1% of population