By Adriana Laureano
If you’re looking for the best elotes in Boyle Heights, look no further than Memo’s Munchies.
Small business owner Guillermo Morales, aka “Memo,” has been servicing the Boyle Heights community for over 20 years. Whether he’s on the corner of César Chavez and Savannah or Saratoga and 1st street, Memo’s Munchies is easy to spot. Look for two rainbow colored umbrellas, a red tarp over the hot dog section, and a long (but fairly quick) line waiting to be served by Morales and his wife. Together, they run Memo’s Munchies and stay open until midnight most nights.
An immigrant from the Mexican state of Puebla, Morales started off selling elotes (Mexican corn on the husk) pushing a cart around in Boyle Heights, but now his customers come to him. He says his secret to success is quality, good customer service, and of course, his Hot Cheetos and Takis elotes.
In the interview conducted in Spanish, the 49-year-old elotero talked about some of the challenges and dangers he’s faced working on the street, about the hardship of working through the COVID pandemic and about his aspirations of opening a storefront in Boyle Heights.
[Editor’s note: This interview from March, 2021 was translated and edited for length and clarity.]
Boyle Heights Beat: You said that you have worked as an elotero in Boyle Heights for over 20 years. Tell me about that, how did it start and what pushed you to continue with this business?
Guillermo Morales: When I first arrived here, I got a job at a business. I worked at various places, but I had my babies and couldn’t dedicate a lot of time to them, so I said to myself: “well, the job is good and all, but I can do something different to dedicate more time to my children.” I worked for about a year at different businesses and after that I dedicated myself to my own business. I have a daughter, she’s in college, at UC Davis. My son also has a career and me, praise the lord, I’m here giving it my all.
BHB: And you started pushing a cart selling elotes. Now you park and people come to you and stand in line. What has helped you the most in your business?
GM: It’s all about the product I offer. I offer them quality, good attention and with that the customers, praise the lord, I have them in my hand.
BHB: And you work with your wife?
GM: We work together, helping each other out, giving our all. It’s not easy, but if you give it your all you can achieve anything. That’s how we get ahead, little by little.
BHB: When did you start working together?
GM: I began by myself a long time ago. When I started, [I was] pushing the cart on the streets of all neighborhoods. Lots of people know me, not just from Boyle Heights but from Whittier, from anywhere. Now, I just set up in a corner, at a place like this, and people come. And for about a year and a half she’s been coming to help.
BHB: In the 20 years and more that you’ve worked in Boyle Heights, what have been some of the most difficult parts of your job, what things affected you but you were able to overcome?
GM: Lots of things have happened to me on the streets, you know people see you selling on the streets, there are people that try to take advantage of you. I’ve had two or three incidents, but thank god I’m still here. One day something happened that I almost didn’t make it, but praise the lord I’m here. Like I said, I like my job and I’ve never given up.
Nowadays I know everybody, I get along with the people, I am nice to them, if they ask me for something I give it to them, whether they have money or not. That’s why I’ve earned their respect and they protect me, like I protect them. We work with the homies, with all the people. If you act nicely nothing happens, that’s my motto.
BHB: And what is your favorite part of being an elotero?
“What I like the most is when people come to Memo’s Munchies to get the Hot Cheetos elote or the Takis elote, that’s what I like the most. When I prepare that, I enjoy it, I enjoy seeing that my customers leave with a smile.”
GM: Well what I like the most is when people come to Memo’s Munchies to get the Hot Cheetos elote or the Takis elote, that’s what I like the most. When I prepare that, I enjoy it, I enjoy seeing that my customers leave with a smile.
BHB: It’s like a work of art, when I see you making the Hot Cheetos and Takis elotes, they’re all recording you and everything.
GM: Yes, it’s like a hobby to me, I enjoy doing that. I wish I could be out selling when the sun comes up, but it’s too much work. Right now I work until 12, 12:30 at night, as you’ve seen. I’m there giving it my all. I have my family and I can provide for them doing this.
BHB: How did your life change during the pandemic? ¿Did it affect your family or your relatives?
GM: Unfortunately, two weeks ago I lost a cousin who also sold elotes in South Central. Unfortunately he died, there’s nothing we could do about it.
BHB: ¿Have you been vaccinated or know when you will be?
GM: In two weeks, I have the appointment, but my wife and I will be getting our shots.
“I’d like to die in my home state of Puebla, but if god doesn’t allow that, I want to stay here, because this is where I’ve been able to make it. Boyle Heights has given me what you can’t imagine.”
BHB: What do you see in the future for you and your business?
GM: I still feel strong to continue working, but it’s getting harder. Sometimes I say, I’m going to make a little extra money, so I leave earlier, go on the streets before arriving here where I’m selling right now. In the future I’d like to open my own business, a little place where people who know me could find me there and I wouldn’t have to be on the streets. Because time passes and you never know.
BHB: Would you like to do that in Boyle Heights or where?
GM: Of course, I’m proud to be here in Boyle Heights, I’ll die here. I’d like to die in my home state of Puebla, but if god doesn’t allow that, I want to stay here, because this is where I’ve been able to make it. Boyle Heights has given me what you can’t imagine. As I said, I have my daughter at UC Davis, such a beautiful girl, that’s why I’m so proud. I’m not leaving here, I plan to stay here.
BHB: That’s so nice. Thanks Guillermo for taking the time to speak with us.
GM: Okay. Be well and you know we’re here at your orders. As I’ve always said, “I don’t have green eyes but I have the best corn from Boyle Heights.”
This is an abridged version of an interview recorded as part of “Voices/Voces,” a storytelling project that aims to connect youth reporters with Boyle Heights and East LA elders. Voices/Voces was a 2020 finalist in (and partially funded by) the LA2050 Grants Challenge. It is also partially funded by the Snap Foundation.
Read other ‘Voices/Voces’ stories:
- Music has been a lifelong passion for Joseph Torres
- How Rubén Guevara became a Chicano Culture Sculptor
- Eloísa Venable Is happy she chose Boyle Heights to retire