If you have visited the Ithaca Farmers’ Market during the past 25 years, you have probably eaten a burrito (probably more than one) from Solaz. You probably also recognize Kristof, the founder and proprietor of this iconic IFM business. If you’re not sure whether a Solaz Frijoles Negros or Breakfast Burrito has graced your tastebuds, we can jog your memory with some related imagery:
Kristof has a pretty simple recipe for success: “I cook what I want to eat.” It just so happens that what Kristof wants to eat, most of the rest of us want to eat too, judging by the long lines that form in front of Solaz on any given day.
Kristof moved to Ithaca in 1988 from Sonora, Tuolumne County, California, deep in the Gold Rush country of the Sierra Nevadas (where they really know their way around some Mexican food). He started Solaz at the Farmers’ Market in 1989, with the original plan being to sell his salsas. After a little while, he decided it would be easy enough to make burritos on a camp stove… and serendipitously enough, he came upon a free kitchen stove on the side of the road. After removing the range from the top and making a few adjustments, he was in the burrito business! Kristof has a knack for finding useful equipment, and the know-how to repair and customize it. He takes pride in the fact that most of his equipment was salvaged.
Kristof has between 1 and 3 employees working at a time, and he credits them with keeping his business afloat when he was recovering from a leg injury a few years ago. April, who went to high school with one of his daughters, has been working with him for 4 years. For many years, his two daughters worked at Solaz, but at the moment they are both busy with their own business ventures.
All of Solaz’s salsas and fillings are, of course, made from scratch. Their ingredients are locally sourced whenever they are seasonally available. They often uses produce from Mandeville Farm in Spencer, which was their neighbor booth at IFM for many years. Solaz will be making calabacitas with their summer squash next week. Kristof often shares food with farmer Janet Mandeville, and has witnessed the evolution of her taste in salsa: she used to only like the mild varieties, but has since become a fan of Solaz’ hot salsa.
One more interesting fact about Kristof: He has personally sorted hundreds of tons of dried beans during the course of his career. Every single bean in a Solaz burrito has been personally looked at by Kristof 3 times during the sorting process, in search of any trace of grit or gravel that may have ended up in the beans when whey were harvested. This task is so crucial that he insists on doing it himself rather than assigning it to a member of his trusted staff. It takes him 25 minutes to clean 25 pounds of beans. He knows that even a tiny bit of sand in a burrito would be enough to make you not want another bite. Rest assured that the beans in your Solaz burrito will be pristine!
If you want to learn more about Kristof and Solaz delicous burritos, you can find them at Steamboat Landing on Saturdays and Sundays, and at the Dewitt Park Market on Tuesdays. Buen provecho!