Flint, MI – In the Flint Farmers’ Market, Aliz Mendoza, owner of newly-opened “I Love Pig,” is on the move.
Behind a chest-high counter, she dashes around with her team, all in bright pink shirts, creating arepas and Cuban sandwiches for a line of customers.
When there’s a break in the action, it’s time to check on the meat in the pressure cooker and retrieve another batch of fried dough. So, Mendoza pulls her orange wagon, piled with serving trays, down the market’s crowded rows before going to the kitchen, which she has rented for four hours.
There, the meat is cooking nicely and her friend Carolina is busy frying the dough. Mendoza jumps in to help, just like how she used to when she made arepas with her family growing up in Venezuela.
Combining corn meal with water, kneading the dough and frying it before combining it with marinated meat; it’s second nature now. It’s what she’s been doing her whole life.
“Every Venezuelan knows how to make an arepa,” Gus Martin, Mendoza’s husband, said.
Now, though, Mendoza makes those same arepas for more than just friends and family at the Flint Farmers’ Market.
Mendoza and Martin have known each other since they were very young. Their mothers were friends, and when Martin’s family moved to Miami when he was 8 years old, Mendoza’s family came to visit often.
Then, when she was 25 years old, she moved to Miami to be with Martin, and about four years ago they moved to Flint for Martin’s new job in trucking.
When they moved to the Midwestern city, they never would have guessed that they would be opening a business, the couple explained.
They had their son, Thomas, who is now three years old, soon after moving, and Mendoza was at home with him most of the time in their early years in Flint.
After taking a class on how to start a business, though, she felt empowered to share her cooking with the world. She started “I Love Pig” in summer 2022 through Flint Footwork, a culinary business incubator in Flint, and sold her food from one of the market’s outdoor pavilion spaces before moving inside the market in April.
“She wanted to open up her own business and be a mom and a businesswoman,” Martin said.
The name for her restaurant came from Mendoza asking Martin how to say “I love pork” in English, a language she said she’s still working on perfecting and therefore deferred some of Flint Beat’s questions to Martin.
Martin said he mixed up the English in his response to her inquiry, saying “I love pig” instead. Needless-to-say as the pair stood in front of a gleaming neon sign bearing the same three words: the mix up stuck.
Now inside the market, Mendoza sells arepas filled with pork, chicken or beans alongside Cuban sandwiches. Her meat marinade recipe is from Martin’s mom, as is the recipe behind her aptly-named “Mom’s Sauce” which she offers as a small side or at $5.99 for a full jar.
The sauce is made with garlic, mayo, cilantro and their “secret weapon,” Martin said, laughing and flashing a smile toward Mendoza.
“What she wanted to do was she wanted people to know about our culture,” Martin said. “I’m Cuban, she’s Venezuelan, so that’s why we have the Cuban sandwiches and then you got the Venezuelan arepas.”
For Mendoza’s part, speaking to Flint Beat between completing customer orders and trips to the kitchen on a busy Thursday afternoon, she said she’s felt a lot of love for her new venture from Flint’s Latin community thus far.
“The Latin people is a big support here because in the opening, all people come here for support,” Mendoza said.
She added that even though she had tried to give her friends from the Latin community free arepas on I Love Pig’s opening day, April 27, 2023, they insisted on paying for them.
Mendoza said it wasn’t easy to get her license for her business because she is still learning to speak English, and mentioned that she’s been taking English classes at the LatinX Technology and Community Center.
However, she said she was actually able to get her business license in Spanish, which she said was perfect.
“Here, it’s possible for every person whether you speak English or other language,” she said.
Having found a way to offer a piece of her heritage to Flint, Mendoza is now encouraging others to follow their dreams.
“If you want to do something and you feel it with your heart, you can do it,” Martin said, translating for Mendoza. Sharing her culture and her food with the world is what brings her joy, he said.