One Hot Tamale!

Tlaolli OwnerFor many years, the East Washington Street corridor was a place most people didn’t want to visit. Crime was high, buildings were dilapidated, and infrastructure was crumbling.

But all that’s changing, thanks to a dedicated, involved group of local citizens. And a microcosm of this change has been a little restaurant located along this historic corridor. It’s called Tlaolli (tlah-OH-lee)—and this tamale restaurant-that-could is a perfect example of the type of change people living in and around East Washington Street want to see.

“Tlaolli is an ancient Nahuatl word for corn,” said Tlaolli found Carlos Hutchinson. “It was probably the most important food source for my ancestors, and was used in lots of recipes by my mother—so now I use these family recipes at our restaurant.”

Tlaolli was once just an idea in the minds of founder Carlos, his daughters Carla, Jennifer, and Samantha, and his wife, Sylvia. But what began as a simple idea became a reality—thanks in large part to the support of groups including the Englewood Community Development Corporation, the Near Eastside Community Organization (NESCO), and LISC.

“I’ve always enjoyed cooking, so my friends and family suggested I open a restaurant,” said Carlos. “When I met all the good-hearted people that live in this area who wanted to support me, I knew Tlaolli would be a good fit for this neighborhood.”

“We knew that Carlos and his family really wanted to be an asset to this neighborhood, and by opening a local, neighborhood-serving business, they definitely did that,” said Joe Bowling of Englewood CDC and Englewood Christian Church, located near the East Washington Street corridor.

LISC sees the East Washington Street corridor as an important strategic site for continued growth and improvement in Indianapolis. That’s why they funded the East Washington Street corridor FOCUS plan, and also provided funding for a full-time staff person, Joe Bowling, to work on neighborhood improvements. In the future, you can expect LISC to continue to provide lots of ongoing support to the up-and-coming East Washington Street corridor.

To kick off the Tlaolli project, LISC gave a portion of the grant that was used to acquire the property. Then, LISC provided Tlaolli with a façade grant as part of its FOCUS program that helped improve the appearance of the building.

“When we first began work on Tlaolli, we started with a broken-down, twenty-by-twenty garage. We were surprised that Carlos thought this space would work—but to our surprise, it did,” said Joe.

Carlos, his family, Joe, and several other neighborhood advocates got to work on improving the property. “We stripped the building down to the studs,” said Joe. “We gave it a new roof, did the plumbing, painting, flooring, drywall, structural work, ventilation, fire suppression—everything that needed to be done.”

Tlaolli has now been open almost a year, and business has been excellent. While there are a few seats inside for dining, the restaurant serves mostly carryout, which has been a big advantage for local businesses and residents looking for a quick, healthy meal. “Our main product is tamales that we cook in olive oil,” said Carlos. “We make our dishes from scratch, and we only use the best ingredients for our food. It’s important that our food tastes great, but we also make sure it’s healthy.”

As the restaurant’s success continues to grow, so too will the restaurant. “We’re hoping to see Tlaolli expand their scope quite a bit,” said Joe. “They plan to add an outdoor dining area, a delivery service, and they may even expand into the adjacent building. It’s all pretty exciting.”

While Tlaolli is just one part of the reemergence of the East Washington Street corridor, it symbolizes what LISC and other local neighborhood CDCs are working hard to achieve: a sustainable, attractive place to live and work. “LISC’s fingerprints are all over this neighborhood,” said Joe. “Our goal is a common one—and every day, we’re getting closer to it.”