Seven Questions with La Plaza Tapatia’s Gustavo Salazar

The owner of the West Side’s authentic Mexican grocery superstore provides tips for celebrating Cinco de Mayo.

Emma Frankart Henterly
Columbus Monthly
Left, Gustavo Salazar with his sister, Lulu Salazar, who works at the store in an administrative role; right, La Plaza Tapatia's storefront on the West Side

First things first: Contrary to common misconception, Cinco de Mayo is not the Mexican equivalent of Independence Day. Rather, it celebrates a single victory in a single battle that took place in the town of Puebla, Mexico, southeast of Mexico City. On May 5, 1862, the Mexican army defeated the much larger French army in a battle that, while not strategically important, served as a major morale-booster for the Mexican forces. France didn’t withdraw from Mexico until 1867, after the United States provided military and political support to its neighbor to the south. 

More than 200 years later, Cinco de Mayo now is celebrated more widely in the U.S. than it is in Mexico, where parades and other festivities typically take place in and around Puebla. In some communities in the U.S., the holiday is a celebration of Mexican and Mexican-American heritage; in other communities, it’s simply a day to indulge in countless margaritas and tacos.  

We spoke with Gustavo Salazar, who is from Mexico City but now lives in Columbus and owns the Mexican grocery La Plaza Tapatia on the West Side, which recently moved into a larger space on Georgesville Road. We asked him about Cinco de Mayo and how his store can help Americans celebrate the holiday with respect to the culture that created it. (Responses were translated by Vincent Fasone.) 

The Columbus Dispatch reports that you opened the new location of La Plaza Tapatia in March. How has business been over the last month?  

Very good. It has been more than we had anticipated. We’re seeing a lot of new faces. The Latino community has been very appreciative and supportive of this new shopping option. We have also been overwhelmed by the huge support of the non-Latino community as well. 

For folks who are unfamiliar, tell us a little about your store. What can they expect when they visit? 

The store is a modern concept designed after current grocers in present-day Mexico. Mexico has grown and evolved over time, and our store is very much a modern, authentic grocery. We wanted our guests to have an overall excellent experience and provide them with everything they need in one place.  

A lot of our guests are surprised to find that we have an artisan ice cream shop, artisan bakery, full bar, large prepared foods section, candy shop with an extensive variety of imported candies from Mexico, and a large fresh meat and seafood area. Our produce area offers a large variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that are not available in many other mainstream groceries. We also have a large outdoor patio area with plans to invite food trucks to offer their food to our guests. 

To many Americans, Cinco de Mayo is simply an opportunity to drink tequila and eat tacos. Does the holiday hold any special significance to you and your family? 

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the victory of the Battle of Puebla that took place in Puebla, Mexico, against the French. We enjoy the day with food, drinks, family and friends. 

Has your view of the holiday changed at all, having lived in America for the last couple of decades? 

Yes, it has. Although Cinco de Mayo is a recognized holiday in Mexico, it is typically not [widely] celebrated. But, after living here, we have chosen to celebrate it along with our American counterparts. 

For Americans who want to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in a way that respects Mexican and Mexican-American culture, what dishes or traditions do you recommend? 

Tacos, tamales, margaritas, piñatas, guacamole, cheese dip, salsas—and really just have fun! Mexicans love to have fun and enjoy the moment. Enjoy your fiesta! 

What ingredients, tools or other items should people look for at your store to create an authentic Mexican feast at home?  

We have a large selection of Mexican beers to choose from, large variety of fresh meat for your carne asadas, typical fruits and vegetables from Mexico—cactus, large green onions for grilling, coconuts—piñatas and Mexican candy to fill them with, artisan baked goods baked fresh daily, paletas, and a large prepared foods section if you prefer not to cook. We also have molcajetes to make your guacamole and a variety of handmade clay pottery to decorate your table. 

For people who don't want to cook at home, what local restaurants do you recommend for authentic Mexican cuisine? Besides your other projects, the Tortilla food truck and Taco Nice, of course. 

Our prepared foods section! We only offer authentic Mexican and Latin American dishes, made fresh several times a day.