‘Every chef’s dream’: New Mexican restaurant set to open in Florence

  • Chef Roberto Saravia stands with about one thousand pounds of special flour from Mexico in the prep kitchen of Masa Mexicano, a new restaurant on Pine Street in Florence. Photographed on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Chefs Dennis Lupien, center, and Roberto Saravia, right, and Saravia’s wife, Maria Arias, are close to opening Masa Mexicano on Pine Street in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The new kitchen at Masa Mexicano features a vertical spit rotisserie. Photographed on Pine Street in Florence on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Chef Dennis Lupien stands with a vertical spit rotisserie and two sizes of tortilla presses in the kitchen of Masa Mexicano, the restaurant he and chef Roberto Saravia are opening on Pine Street in Florence. Photographed on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Chefs Dennis Lupien and chef Roberto Saravia are close to opening their restaurant, Masa Mexicano, on Pine Street in Florence. STAFF PHOTOS/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Chefs Dennis Lupien, right, and Roberto Saravia, and Saravia’s wife, Maria Arias, are close to opening Masa Mexicano on Pine Street in Florence. Photographed on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 11/25/2020 4:32:01 PM

As some restaurants and bars around the Valley are closing for winter amid COVID-19, a new restaurant is set to open soon in Florence.

Roberto Saravia and Dennis Lupien are nearly ready to open Masa Mexicano at 176 Pine St.

“Every chef’s dream, pretty much, is to open a restaurant and not work for somebody else,” Saravia said. “We decided on Florence just because it’s a beautiful town and there’s no really good Mexican food around.”

The duo met about five years ago while they were both working at Osteria Vespa, an Italian restaurant in Amherst. Later, they worked at Esselon Cafe together. Saravia, 33, moved to the Valley from El Salvador when he was 8 and currently lives in Amherst. “I’ve worked for restaurants around the area,” he said.

Lupien, also 33, lives in Northfield and has worked both in the Valley and around the country.

They were working on starting the restaurant when COVID-19 hit the U.S. “We started and signed a lease and everything got shut down,” Saravia said. “I was like, ‘oh my god.’”

Changing COVID guidelines are a challenge, Lupien said. “It is definitely difficult,” he said of opening a restaurant this year. “But once we got into it and the lease was signed … it was no backing out.”

They originally planned to open in May, but the pandemic pushed their timeline back to the fall. For now, the restaurant will offer takeout and some delivery, and later down the line will serve food at the restaurant.

The menu includes tacos and tortas, and, as their name would suggest, they will focus on masa, the dough made from ground corn used to make tortillas. “We’re doing our own fresh corn tortillas daily,” Saravia said.

They get the masa from Masienda, a company in Los Angeles. “They specifically deal in fair trade small farmer corn that comes from Oaxaca, Mexico and the surrounding region. They don’t do anything with big conglomerate farms,” Lupien said.

They also have a vertical spit roaster they use to roast pork at 900 degrees for tacos al pastor, “one of our mainstays,” Lupien said.

Another reason they choose Mexican food: Lupien, who has celiac disease, is able to eat most of it. Aside from sandwiches, the entire menu is gluten free. “Being a celiac working in the restaurant industry — that’s a tough one,” Lupien said. Just inhaling flour can make him sick, he said.

Saravia said he counts Unmi Abkin, chef and co-owner of Coca & The Cellar Bar in Easthampton, as a mentor on the project. Saravia’s father and uncle worked for Abkin when she owned Cha Cha Cha in Northampton. “They were probably one of the first employees I ever hired at Cha Cha Cha,” she said. “I’ve known Roberto since he was 7.”

Abkin, who lives nearby Masa Mexicano in Florence, helped Saravia by bouncing around ideas, like talking about the space’s interior. “I love Mexican food,” she said, “and I think there’s a need for that here in Florence.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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