Genelle Gutierrez-Navarro always loved being in the kitchen. She loved trying new approaches to food, and getting feedback from her family. “My family is awesome,” she says, “because they tell it like it is.”
So when she started experimenting with organic pico de gallo and guacamole, she tried them out with her favorite taste testers. She tried, and tried until finally, last year, they were satisfied. “People were like, you can sell this stuff,” she recalls.
Gutierrez-Navarro hesitated. She had a full-time job, and three kids. And then, this year, her husband lost his job. “We saw his job loss as an opportunity,” says the bubbly cook. At this year’s Verona Green Fair, Gutierrez-Navarro debuted Navarritos Homemade and the results were beyond anything she could have hoped for. “We sold out,” she says. Better still, she got orders to supply pico and guac to several parties. And she took full advantage of the networking at the Green Fair. “We sat next to the people who had the local honey,” she notes. “They had so much to teach us.”
Starting a small business has indeed been a learning experience. Gutierrez-Navarro learned that while she can cook at home for her family, she can’t cook at home and sell it to others. She must work out of a licensed commercial kitchen. Robert Jernick in the Montclair Health Department, which does restaurant inspections in Verona and Montclair, helped her identify several possibilities, in restaurants and catering facilities. Now, when Gutierrez-Navarro has a farmer’s market appearance or party coming up, she can rent just the time she needs to prepare. A friend also came through with a kitchen in Summit, if she needs something further from home, which has been Verona since January 2014. “The biggest issue now is always finding the avocados that are going to be ripe enough.”
Chopping and mixing are zen time for Gutierrez-Navarro, who draws from the mixed Latin heritage of her family for her foods’ flavor profile: She is Cuban and her husband is Uruguyan. “I have fun making the stuff,” she says. “It’s a nice time when I get to make things and be quiet in my head.”
As summer gets into full swing, party orders are turning into more party orders and Gutierrez-Navarro is planning appearances at several local farmers markets. Pico and guac lovers can find their next venue by following Navarritos Homemade on Instagram.