BURGAW — When Holly Liao started Elderberry Tribe in 2019, she always had the goal to grow her wellness brand and products. She also had her sights set on a downtown Burgaw storefront to do so.
“I’ve actually been looking at this place for about four years,” Liao said. “When I first laid eyes on it, I was like, ‘Oh, it would be so cool to collaborate with someone and offer something cool.’”
Burgaw Alimente will operate by late spring out of 118 West Fremont St., once home to the Whistle Stop Café. Liao will sell homemade elderberry food stuff — syrups and sweets — as well as products from other local food purveyors.
“Alimente means ‘food,’” she said.
The store will carry fresh grown produce and locally sourced meats from farmers. More so, it will have a permanent tenant overseeing the onsite kitchen. Tacos El Jefe, a new food truck that launched in January in Burgaw, is partnering with Elderberry Tribe.
Liao has known the family of food truck owner Johnathan Martinez Gomez for years. Gomez told Port City Daily last month he wanted to eventually move his truck into a brick-and-mortar but didn’t think it would happen for a while. When Liao approached him about splitting the rent, he said it made sense, especially since the popularity of the truck warranted an expansion. Already, Tacos El Jefe serves hundreds of people a week, with clientele consistently growing, Gomez said.
“Now we’ll be able to serve more and have more ingredients at one time,” he explained.
Gomez said the logistics of running Tacos El Jefe with his aunt and brother are also simplified by the move. Alimente will be closer to where Gomez lives than the commissary kitchen he drives to daily to prep food for the truck. A full kitchen will create more room storage space too.
“With the food truck, we were limited on what we could keep on the truck at once,” he said. “Like if we did burritos, we could have tacos, but we wouldn’t be able to have empanadas.”
Gomez said El Jefe’s will be able to churn out more of diners’ favorites, including pork, chicken and steak tacos and burritos, as well as empanadas. They’ll also add rice and beans as sides to make plates, and the menu will expand with tamales and other additions.
“Our quessa birria tacos are the most popular right now and will definitely stay,” he said, “plus, we will continue to do fried shrimp taco specials on Fridays.”
Though the hours are not set in stone yet, the taqueria will operate for lunch and possibly dinner during weekdays at first. Gomez is considering breakfast, but hasn’t made any firm decisions.
On weekends, he said the truck will still park at events around the southeastern area, and on days the business is closed, Liao said they will rent it out as commissary kitchen space for others.
“Our space is meant to bring sweet and savory together,” she added.
Elderberry Tribe will operate the retail side of the 960-square-foot building. Her father will create homemade baklava, carrot cake, cheesecake and other sweets to join Liao’s popular elderberry jam, elderberry-blueberry cupcakes and cake pops.
The retail space will go beyond food, too. Liao has been partnering for years with other businesses, such as Earth Essentials by Erica, Coastal Tides and Homestead Treasures. She uses elderberry to create self-care products, including soap, shampoo bars and lip balm.
Liao became interested in making organic elderberry products over the last decade when she was expecting her first child. She said her seasonal allergies were extreme and she wanted a natural way to tackle the issue rather than take over-the-counter medication daily.
“I took elderberry syrup that I had found at a local store for about two weeks and I noticed a significant change,” she said.
Elderberry’s antioxidants have been studied for its health benefits, Liao added, pointing to its vitamin makeup to help lower inflammation and boost the immune system.
Since launching Elderberry Tribe three years ago, she has expanded her offerings to over 30 products, sold in farmers’ markets and retail establishments, like Going Local NC, Lovey’s, among other places. The syrups are her business staples, consisting of two sweetened options, one with agave and another with honey. They’re created from spring water with natural added ingredients like cinnamon, cloves, ginger, turmeric, and elderflower, sold in 8-ounce and a 16-ounce bottles.
She also sells concentrated elderberry extract as 2- or 4-ounce bottles — unsweetened and without spices.
Liao makes gummies and lozenges, plus teas and lemonade, all to be sold at the Burgaw Alimente. She also is adding alcoholic beverages to the lineup, including elderberry mead created by another Burgaw business, Retro Meadery. Plus, Liao is collaborating with Heckler Brewing Co. on an elderberry-blueberry craft beer, as well as other varieties.
Liao plans to reach out to breweries from Wilmington and surrounding areas for more collaborations to serve in Burgaw Alimente’s beer garden. It will be located in the back and a few bistro tables will be situated out front, with limited seating indoors.
“There are a lot of places closing down,” Liao said of Burgaw businesses, “because they’re retiring or moving on. We just want to offer a chance for people to come out, relax and have fun.”
Burgaw Alimente will be located near Fat Daddy’s Pizza, Brown Dog Coffee and the Historic Train Depot. “The train depot is basically in our backyard,” Liao said. “We hope to be up and running by late May — early June at the latest.”
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