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Tamale Boy Revealed

Side Dishes: Biz inheritor has big plans

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Tall, bearded Burlington resident Andrew Johnson has held down plenty of cooking jobs — “I’ve worked in a lot of restaurants, from grease traps to fine dining,” he notes. But his current gig requires that he play a new role: a “girl.”

Johnson, 29, is the new owner of the Tamale Girl biz and its recipes. He recently purchased both from founder Monica Mead, who is moving to New Zealand. “I thought about culinary school, but then this opportunity arose,” he explains. Johnson got his home kitchen certified by the health department and worked to “muster up as much revenue as I could to buy the place.” Happily, Mead thought he was “a good fit,” he says.

Johnson is currently learning how to make tamales — for the first time — but he’s already dreaming of ways to expand the company. “I’d like to do more farmers markets, maybe Shelburne, Waterbury and Montpelier,” he says. He also wants to bring the brand back to a handful of area stores and co-ops. “It’s a healthy [take-out dinner] option,” Johnson suggests. “Instead of putting a pizza in the microwave, you can steam up a tamale.”

Mead’s classic offerings — including Red Chile Chicken and Mild Black Bean Chèvre — will stay the same. But Johnson is excited about creating a handful of new tamale flavors once he’s learned the ropes. “I’d like to kick things up a notch, maybe do some things with smoke,” he says. “And I’d like to keep things local. I feel like we’re in the Fertile Crescent up here. We can have great traditional-style tamales and put a little Vermont in there, too.”

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