El Charro matriarch Carlotta Flores and Tucson's two-time James Beard Award-nominated baker Don Guerra are joining forces in a new venture.
But Flores said the Barrio Charro collaboration is not merely a merger of Guerra's beloved bread and her Si Charro brand Mexican favorites; it's a wholly new venture that will be more bodega-meets-grab-and-go/fast-casual-sandwich-shop.
“There is no reason for us to trump one another and there is no reason for us to hurt either brand," said Flores, whose El Charro restaurant was also a James Beard nominee. "We are merging out of creativity."
That creativity will include taking recipes from El Charro's parent company Si Charro — which includes Charro Steak & del Rey downtown, Charrovida on the northwest side and the family-owned company's three Tucson area El Charro restaurants — and joining them with Guerra's artisan breads on a menu that will include avocado toast, bruschetta and their take on the classic torta. There's also plans for a "Tlayuda" — think Mexican pizza — anchored on a crust Guerra creates from a blend of select flours designed by the popular Tucson baker.
"This is going to be a collaboration of both of our expertises, but really it's about a celebration of all the years we’ve known each other and all that we celebrate in Tucson," Guerra said.
Flores and Guerra's relationship goes back to 2010 when Flores reached out to the baker about using his breads in her restaurants. At the time, Guerra, who for the past four years has had his Barrio Bread bakery at the Broadway Village shopping center, was baking out of his garage and couldn't meet the demands of supplying Flores's restaurants.
Flores said she decided back then that she wanted to collaborate with Guerra.
“The idea with Don was to always do something," she said.
In late February or early March, on the heels of COVID-19 becoming a worldwide pandemic, Flores inked a deal to lease the space at 3699 N. Campbell Ave., which was briefly home to the Hawaiian restaurant Island Plate Lunch before it closed last November. Flores said she initially wanted to use the space, tucked into a Safeway shopping plaza on the corner of Campbell and Prince Road that includes Ghini's French Caffe, for her catering business. The space has several distinct kitchen areas including one for baking and one for prep.
But the pandemic put those plans on hold and gave Flores a chance to rethink her ideas. Circling back to Guerra seemed only natural, she said.
"I think it will be a really fun, new experience," she said. "It’s not huge, but it’s invigorating. At Barrio, it’s him. At El Charro, it’s me. And there (Barrio Charro), it’s us.”
El Charro's corporate executive chef Gary Hickey will be part of the Barrio Charro creative team, Flores said.
"This is a chance for me to work alongside a chef to see my bread come to life and see the uniqueness and the beauty and the taste," said Guerra. "I am excited for people to eat sandwiches with Barrio bread.”
In addition to made-to-order sandwiches and meals, Barrio Charro will offer grab-and-go and takeout friendly Sonoran-Tucson inspired sandwiches and meals. The shop also will sell artisan cheeses, some Barrio breads baked in house, a selection of alcohol and craft cocktails, meats including El Charro's popular carne seca and carne asada from Charro Steak, and grilled salmon off the menu of Si Charro's northwest side vegan-plus restaurant Charrovida.
Flores and Guerra hope to open Barrio Charro sometime in November. The restaurant will be equipped with sanitation stations and will comply with COVID-19 social distancing restrictions.