A pair of women on an impromptu road trip to Mexico last year fell in love with meals punctuated by amazing handmade tortillas and tried to figure out how they were created.
“I picked the brains of every tortilla lady there in the worst broken Spanish ever, and they showed me a little of what they did,” Liz “LC” Connelly told the Willamette Week. “They told us the basic ingredients, and we saw them moving and stretching the dough similar to how pizza makers do before rolling it out with rolling pins. They wouldn’t tell us too much about technique, but we were peeking into the windows of every kitchen, totally fascinated by how easy they made it look. We learned quickly it isn’t quite that easy.”
On their drive home to Portland, Oregon, Connelly and Kali Wilgus — who are white — decided they should work at the craft themselves and then open up an eatery in town. And soon Kooks Burritos was born.
Connelly and Wilgus carved out a spot for themselves in a food cart, rolled out tortillas right in front of customers, cooked them on a griddle and then wrapped them around eggs, guacamole, cheese and your choice of neon-green serrano salsa or neon orange chile de árbol salsa, the Week noted.
Sounds like a fun little eatery you might like to sample some day, yes?
Well, you’re too late. Kooks Burritos has closed shop.
The shuttering happened just a few days after the Willamette Week’s story hit the internet. And along with the rapid-fire closure, the owners deleted much of Kooks Burritos’ online presence, Portland’s Eater said.
Why, you ask? Well, it’s worth noting that some folks were none too pleased with Kooks once they learned the story behind its birth.
The headline of a Mic piece reads, “These white cooks bragged about stealing recipes from Mexico to start a Portland business.” It concluded with this observation:
In less than six months, Wilgus and Connelly have managed to build a business. And, depending on how you look at it, their methods are either genius or the latest example of white folks profiting off the labor of people of color.
Some commenters in the Week article agreed with the “white folks profiting off the labor of people of color” explanation.
One accused Connelly and Wilgus of being “white girls using their whiteness to steal from brown people.”
“This is about stealing aspects of a culture without credit, and laughing about it like the two little idiotic privileged white girls they are,” another commenter noted.
Yet another wrote, “These white girls think what they’re doing is completely harmless and what not. They don’t go through the struggle these women do who wake up early in the morning to make a living [in] a community.”
A Portland Mercury piece said the burrito-making duo “colonized this style of food” and then “decided it would be cute to open a food truck.” And while the Mercury called Kooks’ late Friday closure a “victory,” it added other forms of cultural appropriation will happen in the future “unless we continue to call this out.”
For those who want to travel the whole nine yards of social justice, a document showed up online calling out “white-owned appropriative restaurants in Portland” along with alternative eateries owned by “POC” (i.e., people of color).