Woman reinvents childhood favorite elote into a booming pop-up business

Aidee del Villar lost a paleta business during COVID, but elote is here to stay.

Woman reinvents childhood favorite elote into a booming pop-up business
ABC News Photo Illustration, Me Enloteces
September 26, 2023, 12:51 PM

Almost a year into running a vibrant pink, picture-perfect elote pop-up selling Mexican street corn in North Texas, Aidee Del Villar has a message for female entrepreneurs, Hispanic or otherwise: "Fight for your dreams."

"Even though sometimes life will throw obstacles and sometimes we even build our own obstacles [or] make up excuses, fight for what you love to do," the owner of Me Enloteces told "Good Morning America."

1st generation Mexican American chases her dreams through food

As a Hispanic woman who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, Del Villar said her family "weren't the biggest fans" of her doing something that required working "out in the streets."

PHOTO: Aidee del Villar, owner of Me Enloteces elote pop-up in Texas.
Aidee del Villar, owner of Me Enloteces elote pop-up in Texas.
Me Enloteces

"My parents came from Mexico," she said, explaining that they came to the United States from Durango, "[as they said,] 'to try to give you a better life,' which is totally understandable."

"But I think in order to have success you have to just fight for what you love. You gotta fight for your dreams, because nobody else is going to do it for you," she added. "Sí, se puede. You can do it!"

The 31-year-old entrepreneur has lived in Texas for six years with her husband Jesus Perez, whose family ran paleterias -- ice-pop stands -- back in Mexico. The pair co-operated one of their own, but sadly had to shut down due to the pandemic.

"Sadly, our paleteria journey came to an end because of COVID," she said, recalling plummeting sales as expenses piled up, forcing them to sell the business.

Del Villar decided to pivot and the couple ended up investing in a 16-foot food truck, with financial help from her family, that offered antojitos -- snacks -- along with paletas.

"I've always loved going to paleterias, but my ultimate favorite has always been the elote, because that's what I grew up with," she said, referring to the freshly cooked corn kernels topped with a mix of mayonnaise, sour cream, cheese and hot sauce.

PHOTO: The setup for Me Enloteces elote pop-up in Texas.
The setup for Me Enloteces elote pop-up in Texas.
Me Enloteces

In 2022, when they first "discovered the pop-up world," Del Villar said, "I automatically just loved it."

"What I loved the most was that I noticed that a lot of these pop-up businesses were just so family-oriented -- which I'm very big about," she said.

That night, she said her husband asked her if she would ever consider selling their food under under a tent off the street. She replied enthusiastically, "Yes -- why not?"

"The next day we went and we bought this pink tent, and that's how we kind of started," she said.

Since paletas -- popsicles -- became less feasible for the tent, Del Villar said she decided to focus solely on elote, in the hopes that their clientele would follow.

Elote: Mexican street food with a modern flair

PHOTO: A cup of loaded elote from Me Enloteces.
A cup of loaded elote from Me Enloteces.
Me Enloteces

"When Me Enloteces started, it wasn't an all-pink business," Del Villar said. "I just started incorporating the pink and all the very girly vibes, and slowly but surely, people started recognizing us. Our clients would come back to us [and say], 'Oh my God this is amazing.' And it just started growing. We were like this big family."

Now, coming up on a year of booming business in October, Del Villar can recite orders of regulars thanks to her personal connections. "You don't even have to tell me your order, I got you," she said with a huge smile, hailing each customer as "a big blessing."

When it came to the menu, Del Villar said she knew she wanted to elevate elote to set her cups of corn above the rest. "You're going to get an explosion of flavors," she said.

PHOTO: A tray of enlotadas topped with elote, cheeses, hot sauce and jalapenos.
A tray of enlotadas topped with elote, cheeses, hot sauce and jalapenos.
Me Enloteces

She implemented an array of toppings in addition to the traditional ones -- including her own homemade guajillo chili hot sauce and a special blend of three different Mexican cheeses.

"Your elote is gonna be loaded -- we do a lot of layering, so you will get cheese and mayo everywhere in that cup, more toppings in the middle," she said, adding that no customer gets to the bottom of the container to find a small pile of kernels. "You're still gonna have everything in there."

A classic cup of elote costs just $8, and she said importantly, "We won't charge extra for more toppings."

The classic sweet and salty combination also comes in larger formats like her "enlotadas," which she explained are a riff on a tostada served on a tray, priced from $10 to $12 and made with a base of the customer's choice of Doritos, Takis, Hot Cheetos or corn tortilla chips. Customers get to pick and choose their toppings.

"You can add nacho cheese, jalapenos," she said. "It's a big combination of so many different flavors."

Me Enloteces recently launched a new menu item, ramen elote, which she said "has been a complete hit." The ramen noodles act as the base and get covered with toppings -- which, again, never cost extra.

Del Villar explained that she "did not come up with" the idea for that particular mashup, drawing inspiration from all over, but said they put a personal touch on it to make it uniquely Me Enloteces.

In addition to the snack foods, she is also serving up refreshing agua frescas -- a Mexican fruit drink made with fruit puree and water -- in the same bright pink hues.

"We try to rotate them, but our No. 1 seller since we started is our horchata fresas, which is horchata blended, infused with strawberry," Del Villar said, referring to the staple rice milk and cinnamon-based drink. "Sometimes we'll have coconut with strawberry or strawberry lemonade, and dragon fruit with strawberry."

Sourcing is another key ingredient to Del Villar's business, which has grown from selling just 10 pounds of corn in the first month to now over 125 pounds in their highest-grossing month this past July. Del Villar utilizes big box retailers for commercial ingredients like chips and mayo but supports local, Hispanic-owned suppliers for corn, which she boils on-site so it's always fresh.

A year of elote and a vibrant future

For Del Villar, the first year of business has come with many rewarding moments, but she said "seeing my family together working for a dream" has been the pinnacle.

The working mother said her 8-year-old son has recently enjoyed spending time around the business. "He's been helping me with little things -- the moment he sees people, he'll put his little pink gloves on and start waving to say hi to customers," she said.

Me Enloteces "got us through one of the hardest times in our lives," she added. "It's really just having my family together -- being able to work together -- and definitely our clients."

The future of Me Enloteces looks brighter than her hot pink Instagram page, which has amassed nearly 12,000 followers and dozens of now-viral videos.

"We would absolutely love to open up our first brick-and-mortar in the Oak Cliff, Bishop Arts area [of Dallas], and eventually I would love to expand," Del Villar said, setting her sights on bringing the business to her hometown in Chicago. "Eventually [I'd like to] just have different locations all over."