Ibjar Meneses was born in Mexico and grew up eating tamales, but he never made one before coming to Rutland.
After two years of cooking the tamales sold as a fundraiser by the Light of the World Church on Woodstock Avenue, Meneses is poised to open his own Mexican restaurant in the former Big Lenny’s space on Strongs Avenue. The Board of Aldermen approved a $5,000 grant this week to help him get started, and he hopes to open his doors in mid-May.
“I want to focus a lot on different varieties of tacos, making the tortillas from scratch,” the 32-year-old said.
Born in Mexico, Meneses said he grew up in Chicago and lived in Utah before signing up with his church’s volunteer minister program, which brought him to Rutland. The church was already selling tamales as a fundraiser before his arrival, so he learned to make them and started modifying the recipe to suit his own tastes.
“People coming by and asking if we had other things ... it gave me an idea,” he said.
Meneses said he initially helped set up the Mexican menu at Downtown Gentlemen’s Salon.
“From COVID, everything went downhill,” he said. “That gave me the initiative to try it as a food delivery service.”
Having built from there, Meneses says he’s ready to take it to the next level. The Rutland Redevelopment Authority agreed, recommending the aldermen approve the grant request.
“We’re in that stage where we’re actually sitting down and structuring our plan,” he said.
Meneses said a lot of staples of Mexican food are virtually unknown in the Rutland area, so he plans to try out a lot of different menu items and see which ones sell. He said he’s already had success spicing his tamales with mole sauce, and the menu will feature burritos, quesadillas and chalupas.
“Taco Bell corrupted, perverted, what a chalupa is,” he said.
Also, Meneses said the restaurant will pay tribute to his “rough upbringing” in Chicago.
“It’s going to have my own personal twists, a little bit of street flair,” he said. “You’ll see a lot of jerseys from Chicago, maybe a little graffiti art, a lot of hip-hop music, kind of making that the vibe of the restaurant. ... You’ll see you’re not eating at Taco Bell anymore.”