Owner Julie Bess’ passion for tamales comes from her love of Spanish-style food, and with her own Puerto Rican twists and a large helping of creativity, her tamales are far from ho-hum. “I think of different foods – for instance, turkey and stuffing – that would be good in a tamale,” she said. “I just want to put a unique twist on them, using my imagination.”
As the mother of six boys, Bess has experience feeding large groups. “Cooking brings your family together,” she said. That perspective carries over to her restaurant, where she feeds her customers the way she feeds her family – with good health in mind. The corn-based masa wrapping contains no manteca (animal fat), and all the restaurant’s sautéing is done in pure olive oil. The restaurant offers vegetarian options, and Bess is working on a vegan black bean and corn tamale. “Either do it right or don’t do it at all,” she said of her cooking choices.
Bess also places high priority on giving back to the community. At the end of the day, unsold tamales are donated to those in need. Bess said such charity was always part of the plan for the restaurant. “It’s always been like that, from day one. My husband and I are very giving. We have big hearts to serve people and help people in need.”
Bess is always considering new ideas for tamales, and her menu includes a Coming Soon section featuring delectables such as pulled pork and pineapple or spinach and cheese. She’s also testing out new ideas in her own kitchen: “I was thinking of making a pumpkin pie tamale and seeing how it goes.”
As with any new business, Tamale Lovers has faced challenges. “We’re watching which days are slower and which are faster and how quickly to cook new tamales,” Bess said. She believes the business is getting a feel for customers’ eating patterns – and receiving excellent feedback. Bess said people “are happy to have something unique in the community. The customer satisfaction and the overwhelming response we’ve gotten are really great.”
Tamale Lovers is located at 8610 Brentwood Blvd., Suite F in Brentwood. Phone orders may be placed at 925-240-7100 and web orders at www.tamalelovers.com. Please call well ahead for large orders. Delivery and fundraising options are available. The restaurant is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.