Is the family-owned grocery store a relic of the past? What about the local meat market? Has it, too, gone the way of super stores and chains? And what about the small bakery that serves the community?
If you think the answers to those questions, are “Yes,” “Yes” and “Yes” then perhaps you might think again.
Indeed, the family-owned grocery store, small bakery and local meat market are alive and thriving. What’s more, all three are housed under the same roof at Tienda Y Panaderia Iniguez. Many of the customers walk to the store to do one-stop shopping. Nearly everything is available there, whether it’s fresh produce or canned goods.
Most of the customers speak Spanish, and, as every Spanish speaker knows, a tienda is a store and a panaderia is a bakery. Somehow or other “meat market” was omitted from the name.
The Iniguez family owns the business. Roberto Iniguez, junior, who is 30-years-old and bilingual recently took over the reins from his parents. He works eight-to-ten-hours-a-day six or seven days a week.
His father stands at the cash register, handles the money, and keeps the books. He’s also in charge of selling the imported Mexican cheeses, like cotija that’s made from cow’s milk and comes from Michoacán.
The meat market sits on one side of the tienda. The fruits and vegetables sit on the other side. There are two separate entrances with parking spaces in front.
“Some people come for the meats and don’t realize that there are fruits and vegetables on the other side,” Roberto Iniguez, junior explained.
Indeed, the configuration of the store makes it nearly impossible to see both the meats and the fruits and vegetables at the same time. Moreover, the store has all kind of nooks and crannies.
There’s a section at the back with teas imported from Mexico, including artichoke, lemon grass, arnica, aloe vera cactus, Jamaica and hibiscus. Near the front of the store, there’s another section that offers an array of herbs, seeds, spices and nuts, from almonds to pecans, plus grated coconut and more.
In 2016, local food and travel writer, Kathleen Hill included Iniguez’s tienda in an article for the magazine, Edible Marin and Wine Country. Hill described most of the places to shop for meats, pastries, Mexican herbs and spices along Highway 12 in the neighborhood known as “The Springs” and that includes Boyes Hot Springs, Fetters Hot Springs and Agua Caliente. The Tienda Y Panaderia Iniguez was high on her list.
Indeed, it’s a kind of outpost of Mexico near the heart of Sonoma. Going there can feel like taking a trip South of the border without having to pass through immigration and go through customs.
Whether you’re a Spanish or an English speaker, a Latino or an Anglo, there are at least five good reasons I can think of, off the top of my head, to shop at the Tienda y Panaderia Iniguez – in addition to the reasons provided above.
Reason # one: it’s an authentic Latino grocery store and meat market that also sells baked goods, including pan dulce, the traditional Mexican pastries. Pan dulce translates as “sweet breads.” They’re baked just down the street at Pasteleria La Mixteca.
If you love mole, which is probably the most famous Mexican sauce, you can purchase all the ingredients at the tienda and make it at home. Stock-up on Mexican chocolate, hot and sweet peppers, tomatoes, onions, and garlic. Recipes for mole can be found online or ask Roberto, junior.
Reason # two: vegetables and fruits are available at the store. They include beautiful jicama, strawberries, sweet ripe papayas, avocados and bananas plus imported chilies.
Reason # three: there’s the spectacular meat department where you can purchase rare cuts like pig’s feet, pork liver and pork espinazo that comes from the spinal chord of a pig. You’d also have to hunt far and wide to find the various cuts of thinly sliced beef, including the Milanese, that’s perfect for barbecuing and stir-fry. Tongue is also for sale.
The seafood department is modest; there’s tilapia, shrimp and “basa,” a kind of catfish you won’t find at Whole Foods and perhaps you shouldn’t, though it’s inexpensive. It’s a bottom feeder that comes from Vietnam. Still, the chicken is fresh and local and comes from Rocky.
Reason # four: meet and make the acquaintance of Roberto Iniguez, Junior, who does most of the shopping for the fruits and vegetables at the big produce market in South San Francisco. Born in Jalisco, Mexico, he came to the U.S. at 13, grew up in Sonoma and went to school there. For a time, he wanted to follow his own path, but his own path led back to his parent’s tienda.
“I enjoy the work I do,” he told me. “There are a lot of moving parts here and they keep my mind and my body busy.”
Iniguez purchases whole hogs that are butchered on the premise. Some of the meat goes into chorizo, one of the most popular items with Anglos. If you like spicy sausages you will probably like the chorizo.
Reason # five: the cook, Rosie Garcia, who comes from Guerrero—yet another state in Mexico. She makes tasty rice, delicious beans and Guerrero style beef birria (a spicy stew) that she wraps in banana leaves. Ask Rosie about mole; she’ll provide a recipe.
Roberto Iniguez, Junior, explained why his store is so popular.
“We offer fair prices,” he said. “We never overcharge. If we did we wouldn’t be in business all these years. Our employees like it so much here they never leave.“
If those five reasons aren’t enough to persuade you to shop at the Tienda Y Panaderia Iniguez consider one more.
The Springs, the neighborhood in which it’s located, is perfect for meandering.
From the tienda, you might head for La Michoacána for Mexican-style ice cream that comes in all kinds of exotic flavors, including tequila, vanilla and sweet corn. La Michoacána also offers Mexican popsicles and Agua Frescas (fruit drinks).
With a cone in hand you could wander up and down the street, stopping to look along the way. You’re unlikely to be disappointed. Indeed, you might be pleasantly surprised. The colors are bright, the aromas are tantalizing and the Spanish is a delight to hear.
Tienda Y Panaderia Iniguez: 17185 Highway 12. (707) 548-5434