Hello, would you like to have some tamales, flowers, and pies, cooked by a mom and dropped off on your doorstep by a gay-owned local business? Well, Frelard Tamales is here to deliver.
“We’ve never been a sit-down restaurant,” says co-owner Osbaldo Hernandez, who started Frelard Tamales in 2015 with his husband Dennis Ramey. The couple had noticed a lack of tamales in the north part of Seattle, and set about trying to fix that. (Their first stop was to consult with Eva, Osbaldo's mother, who was already selling tamales on the east side; they needed her advice and also promised that they wouldn't muscle in on her territory.)
Since Frelard's launch five years ago, they’ve grown from selling 2,000 tamales in 2015 to 100,000 last year, but coronavirus and quarantine has forced them to get creative. Now, their little hole-in-the-wall walk-up window business has turned into a growing delivery service that supports not only their tamale empire, but that of other minority-owned businesses around town.
“Our busy summer festival season starts in April,” says Osbaldo. “That brings in over half of our business on a yearly basis.” That won’t be the case in 2020, with the city denying special event permits through the end of the summer at least. The Frelard team knew they’d have to change if they wanted to stay open.
So they’ve turned to deliveries. Skipping fee-heavy services like Uber and GrubHub, Frelard converted their usual retail staff into a delivery team, dispatching them through Seattle, Redmond, Kirkland, Bellevue, and Shoreline. Osbaldo’s mother Eva oversees operations in the kitchen.
But then he started hearing about flower farmers that were having trouble because their usual venues were closed too; so they added flower delivery to their offerings. Now you can walk up to the window in Green Lake for a bouquet, or add flowers to your tamale delivery. That’s worked so well that they’re expanding yet again, partnering with Baked from the Hart to offer pie delivery as well.
During normal times, Frelard Tamales does business in breweries, and at booths set up at special events. But they’re in no rush to return to those conditions, not until they know it’s safe. “It’s a little uncertain and a little scary,” Osbaldo says. “We don’t have a food truck, we just have a booth, so we’re a little scared to send our staff out there.”
In the meantime, they’ll keep driving food around the city, as well as offering free meals to people whose income has been affected by the pandemic. Every day, about thirty households pick up food packages with no questions asked from Frelard. Providing free meals is a small expense, but it's worth it to support the community that's supported them.
And although it's impossible to predict how the pandemic will change our day to day lives over the next few months, Frelard plans to keep the tamale, flower, and pie deliveries in place for as long as people want them. “That’s what’s allowing us to keep our window open,” Osbaldo says, before hurrying back to check on the kitchen.