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Dos Amigos, Vida Cantina to put tortillas on tap in Dover

Union Leader Correspondent

January 14. 2018 8:48PM
Chef David Vargas holds one of the handmade tortillas at Vida Cantina in Portsmouth. He and the owner of Dos Amigos are opening a tortilla production facility in Dover. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

Heirloom flint corn grown in Lee will be used in all of the tortillas made at Vida Tortilla in Dover. It is currently the staple of hand-ground, homemade tortillas sold at Vida Cantina in Portsmouth. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

DOVER — The owners of Dos Amigos Burritos and Vida Cantina are opening a tortilla production facility in a mill building on Washington Street.

Chef David Vargas and his business partner, Joel Harris, say they go through a lot of tortillas. At Vida Cantina in Portsmouth, they use 8,000 tortillas a month. At the four Dos Amigos locations in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, 18,000 tortillas are used each month.

Currently, a staff member at Vida Cantina spends two and a half to three hours a day grinding corn, five days a week, to keep up with demand at their restaurant. Then they have to hand press the tortillas. Vargas describes the process as a labor of love.

Vargas and Harris researched the best tortillas and tortilla companies in the country to ensure their products will be of the highest quality and decided to buy a $45,000 custom-made tortilla machine from Campbell Machines in Los Angeles.

“It comes with a grinder that’s volcanic rock. It’s a very specific process, and it saves a lot of the corn’s nutrients,” Harris said Friday.

Two people will be hired to work full time at Vida Tortilla in Dover. The hope is to produce enough tortillas to supply the five restaurants and make packages of 10 available for sale at Vida Cantina and Dos Amigos.

Vargas and Harris hope to sell the tortillas at farmers markets as well. The plan is to also sell tacos for shoppers to snack on, and then they can bring a package home to their family for Mexican food night.

All the tortillas will be made from heirloom flint corn grown at Tuckaway Farm in Lee. Dorn and Chuck Cox have expanded their corn production to keep up with the demand.

Vargas said opening Vida Tortilla in Dover is more than being part of the farm-to-table movement.

“It’s bigger than that now. It’s a community-to-table movement,” Vargas said. “We’re asking, ’How can we support our community?’ It’s something to be proud of when you get up to go to work.”

Vargas became the chef and owner of Vida Cantina in 2014. The restaurant on Lafayette Road opened in 2013, and Harris is a co-owner.

Harris opened the first Dos Amigos in Portsmouth in 2003 at the age of 23. His success there led to locations in Dover in 2005, Concord in 2007 and Newburyport, Mass., in 2015.

Vargas and Harris have raised more than $10,500 using to help make Vida Tortilla a reality. On the fundraising website, they said start-up costs are $75,000 because they need the tortilla machine, have to add a walk-in refrigerator and renovate the kitchen space at the mill building.

Vargas and Harris set a goal to raise $11,500 on the website to add to their personal funds.

They also are hosting a fundraising dinner at Vida Cantina on Thursday. The menu features seasonal salsa and heirloom chips, flint corn encrusted haddock tacos, chicken pie and mango stone fruit dessert.

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