“You here for tortillas?” 28-year-old chef and tortilla entrepreneur Zack Wangeman asks from the window of a dimly lit shop at 53 Broadway, the first home to Sobre Masa. It’s noon on a weekday, and the sacks of dried corn lining the entryway deeply contrast the trendy mid-century furniture and semi-retired disco ball decorating the spacious room.
Unable to yet hire an official counter person, Wangeman greets all of his customers in a similar manner, particularly as he says them wandering outside the seemingly empty storefront, wondering where they can pick up a paper-wrapped package of the top notch tortillas they saw on Instagram. This is indeed the right spot. In a small kitchen in back, one woman flattens clumps of hydrated masa (tortilla dough), while another quickly cooks those thin disks on a hot comal. The tortillas are then cooled and packaged, vended to in-the-know locals and a handful of nearby restaurants, plus a grocery store in the Hamptons.
After a decade of working as a pastry chef at top New York City restaurants like Per Se and The Grill, plus some impressive staging in Europe, Wangeman abandoned plans to return home to Oaxaca, and has seeped his passion into his new venture. The pandemic opened an opportunity for him to launch Sobre Masa, hosting small indoor dinners when the concept was legal, and now vending tortillas to stay-at-home New Yorkers eager for high quality groceries.
Though fresh, hand-pressed tortillas can be hard to come by in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, Sobre Masa’s tortillas have another special element: They’re made exclusively from imported heirloom corn, a fact for which Wangeman, who grew up in Oaxaca, is extremely proud. He’s working directly with farmers in Mexico to see how he can best support their crops, and continue growing traditions that date back thousands of years.
“Corn is the only plant that needs human intervention to grow,” Wangeman explains. “Some of these seeds are 6000 years old. The are 150 generations of hands that went into growing this corn.” He loves when customers ask him about the corn varietals, and spreading awareness of Mexican agricultural traditions to New Yorkers, who, by purchasing these products, can in turn directly support small farms in Mexico.
Sobre Masa is currently experimenting with eleven types of corn, each of which is ground on site into masa, using a stone chisel. each masa has a slightly different tortilla recipe. Wangeman hopes to eventually narrow down his menu to just a few types of tortillas, based on their popularity and which types of corn are best to import. Right now, the Chalaqueño Blanco, a white corn, is a top seller, as is cónico morado, which creates a beautiful blue-hued tortilla.
In addition to the several varieties of tortilla, Sobre Masa also sells salsa, like the ever-popular Salsa Macha (a favorite of the Oxomoco crowd) and pickles his own escabeche, with vinegar he’s fermented himself, from pineapple. The menu continues to expand, adding to the list of artisanal products Wangeman creates, including heritage pork carnitas, now available for pre-order (via DM) and pickup on Sundays.
Sobre Masa is currently open Tuesday – Sunday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. “Just come in and say hi,” Wangeman instructs.