September 11, 2021

Lexington Dinner Series Maker: Tres Leches (Season 3 Episode 49)

Makers of Minnesota | Tres LechesMarco Zappia, Dustin Nguyen, and Adam Witherspoon are the founders of Tres Leches in Northeast Minneapolis. Tres Leches will be launching soon inside the food building with fermented botanicals, mixers, and various cocktail companions with an event and tasting space.

Tres Leches will be one of the featured makers at our First ever Makers Of Minnesota Dinners at the Lexington on September 28.

Get your tickets here and join the folks from  Alemar Cheeses, Red Table MeatsBakers Field Flour and Bread, Aliment Pasta Co and Tres Leches as Chef Antonio from the Lexington use their products in a three-course meal that he feels highlights all of these wonderful Minnesota made products from the Food Building in Northeast Minneapolis.

You will be our exclusive guest at The Lexington and get to talk to the Food Building makers, as well as pre-order your first-ever Makers Of Minnesota Holiday gift box that I have curated. Get your tickets now and join us on September 28 for a fun night celebrating the wonderful Makers of Minnesota.

photo credit @growlermagazine – Nina Perkins


Stephanie Hansen  00:00

Hello, I’m maker of Minnesota friends and fans. We have a very special event coming up. I am hosting a series of makers and Minnesota dinners at the Lexington in St. Paul and I’m so excited. Not only will you be front and center with some of the best makers in the Twin Cities, you’ll be treated to a three course dinner compliments of chef Antonio from the Lexington and he’ll be using the featured makers ingredients in all the courses that he’s making for this special event. Our September dinner is Tuesday, September 28. And tickets are $98. Our featured makers are the talented folks from LMR cheese, red table meats, Bakersfield flour and bread and tres lay chairs in the food building in Northeast Minneapolis. We will be the exclusive diners in the restaurant for the entire evening. And you will mingle with me and your favorite makers and taste their wonderful products and a special treat. You can even preorder the first ever makers and Minnesota holiday box filled with my favorite products from makers all around the Twin Cities will have a limited number of tickets for this special event. And when they’re gone, they’re gone. So go to the lex mn.com and sign up via Eventbrite for the first makers of Minnesota dinner, featuring the talented makers of the food building, including the delicious cheese from Alomar, cheese, breads from Bakersfield flour and bread meats from Red table meats and elixirs and tinctures from chase Lake Chase. Get your tickets now at the lex mn.com. Hello, you’re listening to the makers in Minnesota podcast. I’m Stephanie Hansen. And I am here with some interesting folks today from a new collaboration. None of these folks are new to what they’re doing. But it’s a new collaboration that’s happening out at the food building. And I got a chance to take a quick peek in the space that’s being built out. It’s tracelink Chase, and I’m here with Marco zappia and Dustin Wynn and Adam Witherspoon do it right, nailed it. You guys are doing a fermented cocktails, non alcoholics, all of the things that you have been known to do Marco and I am assuming you guys know how to do these things, too. And that’s why you’re all coming together. Dustin, how did you meet Marco and Adam? Oh,

Dustin Nguyen  02:33

I met Marco. By hunting them down. I really enjoyed making cocktails in my mother’s basement in high school, like sneak out and make them like the worst drinks. And when I wasn’t in college, I had like found my calling through cocktails and read up on all the bartenders and where they bar attended and what kind of drinks I made. And I thought Marco is really talented and I wanted to learn from them. So applied over at eat street social and got a call back. And I’ve never really looked back since

Stephanie Hansen  03:09

I love it. And Adam, how about you?

Adam Witherspoon  03:11

Yeah, I was on my way to sell my body and soul to LA but then I got inspired by the cocktail and through, you know, think the way we all kind of go about and we just like bother our favorite bartenders as much as we can until they get sick of us. I was about to go to spoon and stable and then destiny intervened and Marco and I met and had short lived bar called Sina and from there it was a Yeah, it’s all in came on. We’re family

Stephanie Hansen  03:44

Miko is that. I’m assuming that’s pretty common because that is sort of what people do as chefs as they find someone they’re inspired by will do a stash. That happens I’m assuming in your industry too. Yeah. Who taught you how did you learn?

Marco Zappia  04:00

couple different mentors. bartending side, I joined the restaurant industry, socials samboni and and Joe Wagner and I had just gotten fresh from South America and my hair was down to here and I smelled terrible and they gave me a little dishwashing job, busboy action and worked my way up. And then when northeast social was opening, the second spot it St. Nick cost of edge and I are a couple it’s a bitter cube kinda took me under their wing and I was bothering them and started driving out to Madison to make the bitters. And that’s where I met Dustin and then Adam and we’ve been in the trenches together for eight years. Their

Stephanie Hansen  04:44

longtime in Barton. lifetime. Since you grew up in Madison,

Dustin Nguyen  04:49

though I was born in Winnipeg, Canada. Oh, I moved down to the states to chase the American dream. So

Stephanie Hansen  04:57

I’d like to move up to Canada and chase the Canadian Entry right about now but you know, Montreal is a pretty great city of Montreal. Oh, me to my brother in law lives there and I just you go there it’s it’s one of the most cosmopolitan cities. So Mark Marco Can you guys talk about so you’re at food building did Kiran seek you out because he’s kind of got a way of finding a collective of people and bringing them along with him and

Marco Zappia  05:23

some of the things that he’s working on and obviously bought this building. First, we first started hanging out with Karen, probably a year ago. And as the restaurants COVID, all that jazz, we’re trying to know, articulate our vision, the next chapter and like what we wanted to do, and I think we’re all feeling a little lost and that direction. And I think like many trying to find that purpose statement, mission statements and really clear visioning. And I had always seen curate and have a tremendous amount of respect for him and kind of approach them just from a mentorship capacity. And we started tasting them out and some of the jobs we were working on. And then I started meeting all the makers here at the food building. And it was really incredible ecosystem turned into like unveil itself, like I see us here, and kind of creating this cross pollination of ideas and creativity. And so I think

Stephanie Hansen  06:23

to this building’s been open for a while, but I think the makers they have in this particular moment, you know, I’ll just say it, some makers, you’re creative beasts, right. Some of you are easy to get along with, some of you are more temperamental. I think this particular group that’s here right now feels very collaborative, and, like they want to make room for others. And, you know, not all creators want to work with other people, right? They just kind of want to do their thing and be left alone. So I feel like food building is at a really great juncture. And I’m you know, COVID kind of stopped everything like what did you guys do for money during COVID? Because you couldn’t really 10 bar I thought that was like people were like, We want cocktails to go but it never happened. We did a lot of weird stuff.

Dustin Nguyen  07:10

Only fans made caramel.

Stephanie Hansen  07:15

You know what everybody else did? I’m gonna look for you on only fans. I don’t know how I’m going to let my kid on know. When we’re naked. Pictures of plants. Yeah. There’s a lot of cat happening during COVID. There

Marco Zappia  07:30

cats and plants. We started a little permaculture project, but our one of our friends properties up north and Maura. And we’ve always worked with botanicals and herbs and you’d always source those from outside parties. And we wanted to learn how to grow the stuff and we got really attracted to perennial systems. And then the forever green initiative at the U of M and Don Weiss and all those crazy cats. Like there’s so many cool agricultural projects out there and saying I’m farmers and running around and so sell some stuff at the farmers market.

Stephanie Hansen  08:07

Okay, so you got into making herbs. Yeah, legitimate ones. Sounds like yeah, so permaculture were you using agua ponics were you just using tools tubes and PVC and water systems

Marco Zappia  08:23

hydroponic? Mostly and then berms and swales and then kind of like a mendala pollinator garden and trying to figure it out and yeah,

Stephanie Hansen  08:32

whales is that like, piles of hay and

Marco Zappia  08:37

yes, on rain comes down. Usually the flatbed most like monocultures are just flat rows of grain, not perennials, they’re all angles, the root structures, the super shallow, shallow so like every year, how many tons of dirt gets washed in Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico. permaculture pretty much just means like, you’re trying to capture as much sunlight and maximize the potential of each acreage. So yeah, top canopy under canopy shrubs and then lower soil. Yep. So Burnsville pretty much literally it’s like just a rolling Hill. And as the rain comes out, it catches a disperses that

Stephanie Hansen  09:19

got it and I’ve seen it Yeah, it’s kind of interesting when you’re driving and you see that because you’re like what is that you’re trying to figure it out. So you’re doing that cool and Maura and what literal herbs are you growing currently

Marco Zappia  09:33

everything can sorry get turned on to Minnesota natives all the work that Alan Burgos doing forger Shafi, isn’t

Stephanie Hansen  09:41

he crazy, amazing. weirdo and I love him. But he is the best and he somehow makes you feel like you can just go out in your backyard and start eating things. Yeah, and you know, can but you should be more experienced like Alan because I know a lot of people that poison themselves on mushrooms. You know, sometimes in a good way, yes. Yes. Which is a whole nother podcast for a whole nother day. Let’s talk about mushrooms later. Yeah, exactly. And those guys are in our cultivars so cool. Like they have just blown up the machine in the Twin Cities. But again, another podcast. So okay, so you guys started growing herbs and you’re selling them at farmer’s markets. And now you have your own. And tell me about what you’re going to be making here because I think I was telling you, I’m trying to think of where I was, I was somewhere out in about and I had that someone said, Do you want something to drink and we have these things and they gave me a can, and it was silver. And it literally had like a label taped on it. And I don’t know what this is, but it’s amazing. That says botanicals on there. And then in the very fine print it said trace like Chase. Oh, that’s gotta be a Marco’s something. I was drinking it was a I want to say it was like a self a bubbly water. Cool.

Marco Zappia  10:55

Yeah, we’re, um, we want to do a lot of things. Focusing on three main categories, fermentation, maturation and distillation. And the general idea concept is to take raw materials, and then how do you apply technique to them to extract the most flavor when also taking other people’s buy products and trying to upcycle it? Try and our goal of this closed loop system like how do you how many things we do with this product? Okay, so kumbu chose syrup’s acid modifiers proxy winds and fermeuse. And koji musos. And caroms and the world is your oyster. Yeah.

Stephanie Hansen  11:39

So what I want people to think about because it took me a long time to get this. And I don’t know why. But all of a sudden, one day it occurred to me that bartenders and people that specialize in in ferments and the cocktail world, that you’re just chefs to like, yeah, you know, you think about chefs in a restaurant and heading up a food program, but the great cocktail people in the Twin Cities, and boy, we’ve had a lot, I kind of see you guys, and this will maybe sound weird, but I kind of see you as generation two, because I see there were like people that were before you. And maybe they’re the same age as you. But you know, the Johnny Michaels and PIP Hanson’s of the world. And, Nick, certainly, yeah. And now you guys are kind of in my mind, like the second group. And it’ll be interesting to see who you will inspire and who the third group will be, because they’re inevitably going to come knocking at your door,

Marco Zappia  12:32

they’re going to be amazing. Way better, the faster I guarantee it. Why do you think there’s a dynamic change in the industry right now?

Stephanie Hansen  12:41

And tell me about that, from a lifestyle perspective, or from a literal making a product perspective?

Marco Zappia  12:46

I’ve fit both. Yeah, there’s how we were trained, and this ratios over recipes, and that the classic cocktail is nothing. There’s no reinventing the wheel. I think we’re in this modern bartending phase right now, where it’s riffs on riffs on classics, and there’s a certain kind of, like, potatohead quality to it. And then we’re just now starting to see glimmers of like, what a postmodern cocktail world is gonna be. And that’s not defined yet. But you can see little inklings of it here and there.

Stephanie Hansen  13:23

And that’s kind of funny, because I think that happened in the food world, right, with grant ad chats and some of the molecular gastronomy that was happening around the country. And it came to the Twin Cities a little bit. Certainly, Jimmy and what Gavin does over there, I think, took into consideration some of that. And and now they’re sort of the restaurant world seems like it’s heading back retreating, I guess, as it were back to classics, back to Steak House, maybe in a better way, maybe in a more sustainable way. Can you guys talk a little bit and Adam and maybe this is a question for you. Your industry is changing a lot and hours that people work and expectations of hospitality seems like it’s changing. And obviously because COVID and we’re just getting things open, but like, it seems like people are going to work less people are going to not be open Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays. Do you anticipate that that will be a lasting change? Or did that make an impact in your personal life? Yeah, I

Adam Witherspoon  14:23

mean, I think you know that to that new wave of people that’s going to be coming in you know, unfortunately I like a lot of the oh geez and all that I love them we love and admire they left the industry for whatever reason good, bad, indifferent. And you know, the new people coming in get to see it with a fresh set of eyes. I don’t know if demand is right word, but they get to set a new precedent for like, what this industry should look like. They get to see the good and the bad and kind of pick and choose and be like if I’m gonna do this then hates me. To be a better, more sustainable way of going about it, because, I mean, I can speak for us, but you know, I think there’s a little bit of masochist in all of us. And we did it seven days a week, all day, every day, and we love it. But, you know, we’re trying to, like, pass on, you know, mistakes that we made. And I think everybody coming up is going to be fortunate enough to learn from those. And yeah, I think you’re gonna see, I don’t I don’t know if that’s the, the Sunday, Monday, Tuesday close, or if it’s just everybody, you know, fighting for universal health care, or what exactly that’s going to look like. But there’s definitely going to be changes, you know, can’t go back to the status quo. Nobody wants to go back to that. No. martyrdoms not hot anymore.

Stephanie Hansen  15:52

No, we were talking about that. The other day, I think I was attacked my chef Jacques rabl, who was as badass as anybody you know, about hard work and paying your dues. And you know, that guy’s from St. Paul, and he came up to the school of hard knocks. And we were talking about, you know, when you used to go to work sick, like, do you I mean, we always went to work sick. That was the expectation. You couldn’t call in sick on your ship. If you were like, legitimately on death’s door, you still came in? Did your ship as best as you could say, come over. Yeah, I need you to puke in front of me. Right, like, you know, now in our settings, if someone even coughs, everybody just is like, Oh, wow. Okay, where are we had, I think to just when you talk about universal health care. It’s it this is the like, last bastion this industry, right? Like, you know, it was such an uproar and paste them on $12 an hour. Like, literally, if I think back to just two years, that’s what we were fighting for was for someone to get $12 an hour. You know, we still don’t have a tip credit, which I think is unfortunate, but it is what it is. front and back of the house parody and wages and no medical coverage, no mental health coverage. No, you know, Employee Assistance Programs know nothing for an industry that is really large, and impacts a lot of other producers and people and every developer wants to have a super cool swanky apartment building or maybe hotel with a swanky bar in the basement. But, you know, like those things come at a cost and it’s human capital. And I think it almost did take the COVID experience in the Coronavirus to ban the hospitality folks together and just be like, No, you know, we aren’t going to risk our lives, we aren’t going to do this anymore. And if we do, it’s going to cost more, it’s going to look different. I think john wipfli from Annamalai, who was talking about you know, right now I can sell a lot of ribs, but I’m going to have to charge $48 for a rack to sell those ribs. So it’s forcing me to get more creative. It’s forcing me to think about other vegetarian type things I can offer and complements to that meat isn’t necessarily the main all the time. It’s more of the accent doesn’t work. It feels like that’s just changing everywhere. When you guys think about food building and your access to Bakersfield flour and bread and LMR cheese and element pasta, and red table meats of course the Oh gee. Yeah. Mike Phillips Yeah, he’s he’s like it. He kind of reminds me of you in some ways. Like he was the original cat at the craftsman. And even before that, I’m definitely not school. So he’s, he’s pretty cool. Oh, he is pretty cool. And he’s such a good dad. Like, that’s hard to do, too. That’s something to admire. You’re going to all be here in the big picture. Do you see like people coming into the space and you guys doing events together? And when we can all gather in a more collective way? Do you see running a bar out here?

Marco Zappia  19:01

Yeah, there’s a lot of opportunity. Yeah, citement. Man, I think in this next chapter, the food building, there’s this very palpable sense of like something magic is here and about to happen. And we’re really grateful to be part of it. Yeah, events are like, What does cocktails look like with these upcycling gradients? Yeah, like how do you? There’s so many possibilities. It’s overwhelming.

Adam Witherspoon  19:31

Oh, say working in a vacuum has never been our mo you know, we don’t do I mean, we all love the process of doing this. But if it doesn’t connect Well, the people that it’s actually you know, metaphor and we can talk to you and touch you like

Marco Zappia  19:46

radical relationships, seeking the essence of something that’s

Stephanie Hansen  19:51

well and I think when you look at, like a building like Malcolm yards, which has been very successful, it’s new but seems to be really hitting on all cylinders, great people over there too. And that’s the kind of thing you guys could easily do here in a different way. But from a maker perspective.

Marco Zappia  20:08

Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. I think once the sharing of knowledge and like transparency, open books, all that like showing those techniques, and just being inspired through that lateral thinking is going to create a lot of really cool new products. Yeah, better not just delicious and nourishing, but sustainable environmentally,

Stephanie Hansen  20:34

yeah. And can be more impactful in the world as at work. So we’re going to be working together, we’re having a dinner at the Lexington, it’s on September 28. And we have all of the makers from the food building. And we’re coming together for a multicourse dinner that chef Antonio has put together. He’s really excited about the menu as are we. And I think we’ve already like sold half the tickets that are out there. So that’s exciting. Thank God. Yeah, exactly. What where can people find your products right now? And what will you be doing at the lax? Yeah,

Marco Zappia  21:06

right now, only retail location. It’s gonna be the food building here. Oh, we’re at the market. Yeah. And then we’re kind of doing stuff with our friends and wholesale accounts. So bars and restaurants, and cities, and then we’ll go public, everything after the space gets built up. Okay, now. And then the wax. We’re gonna do a couple of different opening cocktails featuring all the buyer products from other producers, working with Antonio on some of the food items as well. And then yeah, party.

Stephanie Hansen  21:38

Party hard. Well, it’s super great to spend time with you guys. I appreciate you talking to me about what you have coming up. When do we anticipate an official opening for you? Oh, goodness, I don’t have that date. Are we thinking fall? Yes. Okay. So potentially early fall. Poor Jessie held, you know, like Earl Giles. Yeah, it’s gonna happen spring. And here we are. And he’s still waiting. And it’s been hard to get built out and hard to get materials and it’s insane out there right now. Yeah. Really difficult. For general contractors. I know. Yeah. Everybody’s getting the crap beat out of them. So. All right. Well, I look forward to seeing you guys at the Lexington and I will follow up and see when your space is open. I’ll come and revisit and drink some of your delicious drinks and your delicious elixirs. I mean, ferments is that just is that like, what’s the biggest category? Just your ferment? sounds so weird. It sounds like we’re drinking your putrid coffee water but the umbrella is dope shit. Yeah. Because I make sauerkraut and I remember and Kim talking about how like she was the weird kid that when you go into her house that always smelled like sauerkraut. My daughter’s like, Mom, our entire cabin smells so bad. I’m like, yeah, it’s happened. This is a badge of honor this fermenting yeasty smell. I’m very proud of it. Bacteria is cool. Yeah, it is and the more like only cooled off you know which ones you can keep and which ones you just have to pick off. This is I’ve been eating moldy cheese my whole life My mom would just be like, you just you just cut that off. That’s fine. That cheese. Someone asked me the other day about expiration dates on my spices. And I was like um, there isn’t any you just not smell it and if it smells good, you use it and if it doesn’t smell anymore, it’s probably time to recycle it but really expiration dates are they were made by like food packagers in order to a comply with rules that were sort of arbitrary and Bs tell you more stuff. If it’s not, yeah, go bad. Eat it. That’s fine. So thanks, guys. I appreciate it. Thank


you stuff. Yeah.