A series of interviews with some friends of BAGGU.
Our Friend Isa
Isa runs the Hugo Street gem YO TAMBIEN CANTINA with her wife Kenzie, in the Inner Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco. Our coworker Anna visited her sunny apartment to learn what has been keeping her afloat!
Keep an eye out and you'll notice Isa shows up in some of our photography on baggu.com, modeling things like this REUSABLE FABRIC MASK:
ANNA: Well, thanks for having me today!
ISA: Yeah, it feels so good to have people here.
ANNA: It's fun to be inside people's places in this time when we aren’t having people inside.
ISA: I know. It feels very exciting. I have little objects…
ANNA: Lots of little objects. I know that you have many hobbies and things that you're interested in. How have you been weathering everything?
ISA: Recently, with the shelter-in-place order and all those things, I think I’ve found a little bit more time to work on side projects. I’ve been making some furniture. Having a background in architecture I think has given me the tools to easily build things. I built most of the things that are around in this house. The dining table, this couch, the desks. So that has been really fun. And I think I would love to keep exploring that. Maybe at some point do an apprenticeship, or just keep having fun with it. Right now it’s like a very fun thing, and I think the more I do it… I just learn more.
I started doing a couple of desks. I did some commissions and I’m like, “Oh man, now I’m really getting the hang of this. I know I can make a desk in like a day now.”
ANNA: I noticed that the desks and this table have some nice curves at the bottom. Can you tell me a little about this concept here?
ISA: Yeah, the arches.
ANNA: Yeah, yeah, the arches.
ISA: The arches and the round edges come from food, which is crazy. I mean, everything’s related.
I work in our garage and we do store a couple of things there for the Cantina. We have some restaurant equipment, we also have some cans of tomatoes and objects that belong to the kitchen, and somehow I’ve just managed to bring these two things together, these two passions of mine.
I wanted to do like a soft edge or a detail that would differentiate my furniture from things that I’ve seen. The only thing I had in hand for the radius of the circle was this huge can of tomatoes, and I’m like, “This is it. I just got to use whatever I have in hand.” And that is definitely an approach I have in life and all the things that I do. I don’t know if the word is “resourceful” but there is an element of making things up as I go, it’s just like “Okay, I’m faced with this design challenge. What do I have around?” Or it could be a recipe challenge, anything. I’m like, “Okay, what do I have round that could work right now?”
ISA: I’m calling this the “Pomodoro” line. A “pomodoro” just means “tomato” in Italian, and the can just says “Pomodoro” really big, so this is the “Pomodoro” line.
All the geometry of the table comes from kitchen equipment. And so that the first dinner that we had on this table, we used the “Pomodoros” and made a pasta. So I think that could be a cool concept for something else. It’s like a dinner party, and whatever I use to make the furniture, I’m going to use to make the dinner with as well.
I always keep returning to the kitchen which is funny because as much as I want to stay away from it… I just keep coming back to it. Or it keeps coming back to me, I don’t know.
ANNA: You have so many stones there. Also, what’s this thing?
ISA: That’s one of my own creations. It used to be a little statue of a very popular Venezuelan saint, Jose Gregorio Hernandez, who was a doctor, a really famous doctor, but he was so good that he was assumed to be a miracle worker. I had a figurine and it lost its head, but then I have this incense that my best friend gave to me. She lives in Mexico, Michu. And this is Copal, which is very particular to Mexico, and I was like, “Oh maybe this is a perfect incense holder.” And it just kind of worked like that.
Yeah, and this is the real Jose Gregorio Hernandez. He also broke, but we put him together. People say there’s a rumor that he was maybe gay. So that’s why he’s our saint. People just don’t want to admit it, but he was probably gay.
ISA: And then the rocks and the stones, that’s another huge part of our lives. Kenzie and I met... pretty much the first thing that we did was our rock swap. And we were both boasting about how cool the rocks we had were, individually, and we just exchanged some rocks and then I was like, “Oh, this chick’s pretty cool. She had really sweet rocks.” And then we started spending more time together, more rocks, more ocean, a lot of fish and then we just fell in love. We combined our rock collections.
ANNA: Wow, so that was the true marriage.
ISA: That was the true marriage, yeah.
ANNA: That is cool. What are those things?
ISA: That’s petrified wood.
ANNA: Oh wow. That’s cool.
ISA: This one looks like a little dessert, like an Argentinian alfajor. I love that one. Also the rocks that look like food, like mortadella pieces, sometimes. This one looks like a mint.
ANNA: Oh yeah. Kind of looks like jade.
ISA: Yeah. What else, guys? This is a very sick cactus. I need to maybe throw it out.
ANNA: But your fern here looks so happy.
ISA: You got to spritz them. All the ferns like to be spritzed.
ANNA: That makes sense. They live in the dank.
ANNA: We can dive in and out of this, but clearly it’s been a terrible year. And restaurants have taken an extremely hard hit with the coronavirus. How have you been able to continue to share that ball of light or that warmth at this time? I know you guys have been doing the produce boxes, the veggie and wine club…
ISA: Yeah, obviously there is a very romantic… romanticized aspect of the concept of what the Cantina is, but there’s also a very real and practical side of the day to day and how business is run, and the reality of being in business with your partner, with your life partner, is rough. It’s really intense. It’s a lot of work. And especially during a pandemic where there’s so much pressure because it’s both of your jobs and your lives. Everything is boxed into this single thing and that has been very difficult to navigate, but also in so many ways lucky that we’re so close. We literally live a block away from the Cantina, and having that closeness has made things a lot easier for us during this time.
As you mentioned, we started a wine and veggie club. And that has been really fun. So every month we choose a couple of bottles of wine and we create recipes, and we have recipe cards, so I think adding those creative projects into what could be part of our business, what can make us survive as a business has been definitely rewarding. But it’s also a lot of work. So I think right now we’re just thinking about, “how can we keep each other or ourselves enamored with this project, but also make it profitable and make it efficient enough so that it can continue to grow and just stay in business?” So that has been the main challenge right now.
ISA: And I think we are really lucky that we have a community that is extremely supportive, and we’ve seen so many people just show their appreciation and support, people coming every single day for a rice bowl for lunch, or joining our wine club, or getting our wine and getting gifts for their families. It’s been really amazing and humbling to see what we’ve created. The result of what we’ve created.
We’ve created this beautiful thing and we want to see it thrive. But at the same time, if it doesn’t, it’s not who we are entirely. It’s not something that is, “This is the Cantina and without it we will be nothing.” It’s like, “Okay, if this doesn’t work, or at some point if we decide to just step outside of it, what are the other possibilities, what other things can we do individually or together?” It’s just fun to think about other possibilities and other projects. And that is exciting, it’s kind of scary, but also exciting.
ANNA: You could become a DJ.
ISA: I could become a DJ, yeah. That would be fun.