A Former Nopa Server Launches a Mezcal Brand

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Editor’s Note: Rachel Glueck is a former server at Nopa Restaurant. In many ways, you could also say that she is the catalyst for our extensive little media project, Nopalize. In 2010, when I began at Nopa, Rachel was already off to her next adventure, but the residue of her prints lingered deeply – particularly on the keyboard. Long before there was the website Nopalize, there was an impressive collection of articles on the home page of Nopa’s website. There were a number of contributors at this stage, a handful  of the managers at Nopa, the Wine Director and other servers. But I vividly recall the spark and vigor of Rachel’s words back then – she was fully charged. There was the Food and Social Justice article, and ruminations on farm visits to Dirty Girl in Santa Cruz and Catalan in Hollister. It didn’t take me long to follow suit and in 2011, I too was writing on Nopa’s website. Those articles, grew and grew and culminated at the beginning of this year with a full-time foray into food media – a dream job to say the least. We could do an entire years worth of content just recounting what/where Rachel has been since she left Nopa back in 2009. But the easier thing to do would be to introduce you to Rachel. She’ll be back in the city hosting a mezcal tasting at Nopalito. It’s not just any mezcal, either – it seems our friend the intrepid ag writer spent some time in Oxaca and is now an intrepid mezcal entrepreneur. Read her story below and come join us on Wednesday evening, as she hosts a free mezcal tasting at Nopalito to celebrate the launch of her new brand,  El Amor del Diablo. 

– Stephen Satterfield

Is there something we can do to help you engage in your work more?” he asked with a serious, yet earnest expression.

It was a question posed by my boss, Jeff Hanak, co-owner of Nopa and Nopalito restaurants, aimed to address the slump I’d hit at work. The reality was, I was traversing another existential valley, feeling stuck in life (28 years old and I’m still a waitress??), and the waves of that personal low had rippled out into my work life. I needed a new spark. I needed to feel like I was doing something valuable with myself.

“Well…yes, actually. There is something,” I responded. And in that moment was born the idea for the Nopa food blog. It had been rolling around, unspoken, in the back of both our minds for a while. Sometimes you just need a kink in the works to get things out on the table.

In less than a month’s time I was riding my ’69 Honda CB350 motorcycle out to regional farms and interviewing Nopa’s purveyors. I began with Paradise Valley Farms, where I discovered the possibilities of hyper-local farming, then moved further afield where Maria Catalan taught me what it was to a build healthy community starting from zero. My articles and photos were published on Nopa’s new food blog – what has now evolved into the Nopalize site. Low and behold, I discovered I was a writer – not just a writer, but a motorcycling, adventure ag-journalist! In the year that followed, Nopa gave me one of the greatest lessons of my life: It’s not what you do that is so important, but how you do it.

My nomadic tendencies got the better of me, and I left San Fran in 2009 to spend several years working my way around Europe, teaching writing and dance to Nepalese orphans, and studying Buddhism in the Himalayas. I kept an active blog of these adventures and written a memoir (under the pen name, Leela Vera Morales), and eventually began writing for a food magazine on culture, travel, and gastronomic pleasures.

In 2012 I moved to Zihuatanejo, Mexico under the pretense of getting my dive masters. Something else was calling me there, though I had no idea just what. As the plane coasted over deep cut canyons, and verdant villages, I felt I was returning home. Madre Mexico was opening her arms to me, much like a mother who’d long expected the return of her prodigal child.

It was at my first temazcal (an Aztec sweat lodge) three weeks later that I met the man who is now my fiancé: a native Mexican healer, Aztec dancer, and artisan. Since that time, Noel has passed on to me much of his knowledge of the intricate roots of his people and their complex culture. With Noel, I’ve had the honor of participating in native ceremonies, getting the insider’s tours of sacred sites, eating tclayudas, tclacoyos, and chapolines in Mexican markets, and of course…drinking mezcal with Aztec dancers from plastic 5-liter jugs. It was an education in the latter that has lead to new beginnings – with the lesson Nopa taught me always at the forefront.

My fiancé was regularly extolling the virtues of mezcal, but being fresh off the boat, it took me some time to adopt his unquenchable enthusiasm. I first needed to get to know the people and the history of Mexico before I could fully appreciate this sultry spirit. Last October I was finally reeled into the folds of the mysterious maguey, hook, line, and sinker.

– Rachel Glueck