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Hotter Than Hot

Side Dishes: Johnson Mexican eatery expands


Published March 20, 2012 at 4:34 p.m.


In 2009, Hot Tamale started as a pair of wooden sawhorses and a board holding 50 tamales at the Johnson farmers market. Cheryl McCabe’s stuffed-corn specialties sold out in less than an hour, and business hasn’t slowed down since. This coming Cinco de Mayo, the take-out spot and food-truck business will add another outlet for its fast-growing brand: a full-service restaurant.

McCabe’s daughter and business partner, Los Angeles-based Moana Dixon, set up a Kickstarter campaign to fund the venture; at press time, Hot Tamale was $530 away from its $2000 opening goal. Dixon identifies the restaurant’s prospective home as 122 East Main Street in Johnson, formerly Piezano’s Pizza, though she and her mother haven’t yet signed the lease. She says McCabe is hard at work testing new dishes to add to Hot Tamale’s authentic gorditas, enchiladas and giant burritos. Gluten-free and vegan options will certainly be on the menu, Dixon adds.

Meanwhile, McCabe is working on another venture: canning her signature mango, verde, casa and Hot Mamma salsas for sale. Most of their ingredients come from Johnson-area farms. Dixon says she’ll start approaching local distributors in June, once those farms are producing the makings of large quantities of salsa.

As soon as she can, though, the young businesswoman would like to expand out of state. “Our biggest goal is reaching out to New England,” Dixon says. “We’d really like to spread the word about everything that comes out of Vermont. We have to reach a little further to do that.”

This summer, Hot Tamale will spread the word in Vermont, too — more than ever. McCabe is hiring helpers to staff booths at 12 different farmers markets. The Hot Tamale catering truck will make stops at events across the state, as well. Dixon says she hopes to hear soon if her application to sell at the Champlain Valley Fair has been accepted. Until then, the mother-daughter team is sure to keep busy.