Our “Merchants We Love” series appreciates those who generously contribute to the success of our tours by hosting our wonderful guests week after week. We feel they give special meaning to “City of Angels”, and we hope you enjoy getting to know them better.
We are especially pleased, in this story, to introduce Armando Puente Jr., our Junior Intern at Melting Pot Tours.
Seven years ago, a beautiful 3-year-old Latino was busy “working” at the Original Farmers Market, at his family’s Farm Fresh Produce store.
“I ran around. I said hello. I was just learning to talk! I got paid quarters!”
That was when I first met 10-year-old Armando Puente Jr.
His father Armando Sr. was doing his best to keep track of him that day and told me, “That’s Armandito!”
Like his older brothers have done, Armando Jr. is growing up at his family’s store, “working” on non-school days. That brings my story to May 2015.
Lisa and I were at Farm Fresh for some business and Lisa was suddenly startled.
“There’s a little boy under that table!”
I knew him and, was thoroughly amused. Clearly he was up to his old tricks. “That’s Armandito!”
It made me laugh to re-introduce myself and marvel how fast time had flown, even though this adorable 9-year-old had no recollection of who I was.
We quickly became reacquainted, however, and I made a possibly-irresistible offer to his mother Carmen, when I learned he’d be spending the entire summer at their store. Without even consulting Armandito personally, I put my idea on the table.
“On days when I’m here, let him come and help me with tours. He can be my assistant.”
One Friday in early June, Armando Jr. and I co-hosted our first tour together. A newlywed couple from Scotland were our only guests.
I was delighted - but not surprised, knowing his family well - at how smart, attentive, helpful, polite, and charming he was. Our guests were very impressed and even wrote to say how much they loved spending the last day of their honeymoon with us!
Since then, Lisa and I have trained our young protegee’ to be quite the ambassador for the Market, and our City of Angels. He just received his very own name tag and with more good points, he’ll soon earn his own (much-coveted ;-) clipboard.
In July, he accompanied me to new-business meetings with Market managers. He took the liberty of speaking quite confidently as our representative, regarding new tours.
“Tell them yes, we can customize tours, for anything they want.”
I guess he told them, so I had nothing to add, apparently.
He not only makes commitments on our behalf ;-), after tours we grocery shop, practice quality control for Market grocery carts (we promise guests consistently perfect carts!), discuss secrets to life, visit our angels at Kip’s Toyland ... all the important stuff.
Armandito sombraI call him my shadow, mi sombra; he took his own foto (left) for me.
By now we’ve come to adore our little intern, and he keeps us - and our guests - very entertained. He can finish my stories ~ now I only have to work half as hard. He takes over to share his family’s store, and serves our guests their fresh fruit with authentic pride and joy.
We thought you’d enjoy some trivia about our guy, so I shot some rapid fire questions at him:
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I like to stay up late. And take naps.
Do you like school?
Yes. Math is my favorite subject!
What do you love most about your family’s tradition at the Market?
That we’re famous, everyone knows us!
Where would you not be caught dead?
In a bar!
Secret to life?
Don’t do drugs.
Forgiveness (El Perdon) by Enrique Iglesias; the Beatles
Black and green. 4 (birthday is Nov 4!)
Guardians of the Galaxy
Store at Farmers Market?
Kip’s Toyland, and Gill’s Ice Cream
Best advice to people who want your job?
Be on time. Don’t slack off.
Best part of being a tour host?
Again, I have nothing to add.
Except ... I promised a recipe, so here is the Happy Birthday Pizza that I brought Armando Jr., on Halloween Saturday, to celebrate his 10th birthday on November 4th.armandito pizza
Handmade with heart, it’s simple and delicious. So worthy of our little muse.
Chef Di’s Happy Birthday Pizza, for Armando Jr.
For pizza dough:
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour + 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, sifted with 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp (or one package) dry yeast
- 2/3 cup warm water
- 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil + more to coat bowl
Place flour and salt in large bowl
- Dissolve yeast in warm water, add oil and mix well.
- Pour liquid over flour and combine by hand until mixture yields a soft ball of dough; add more flour or water in tiny portions if needed.
- Take ball out of bowl, and coat bowl with more oil.
- Place dough back in bowl. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in draft-free place for at least one hour.
- Gently transfer to pizza pan when called for.
For tomato sauce:
- 4 large, ripe tomatoes, cut in chunks
- Extra-virgin olive oil, about 1/4 cup
- 1 tsp sea salt
Preheat oven to 400F
- Place tomato chunks in large baking dish, or ideally, in cast-iron skillet for baking pizza later.
- Toss well with oil and salt.
- Roast tomatoes for 30-40 minutes, until soft.
- Let cool slightly, then press all contents thru fine mesh strainer to create sauce.
- Discard remaining seeds and skin.
- Maintain oven temperature.
- Coat cast-iron skillet used for tomatoes, or pizza pan, or shallow baking dish with generous olive oil.
- Hand-press dough evenly into pan.
- Spread tomato sauce evenly on top, then evenly sprinkle 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese.
- Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until top is lightly browned and cheese is gooey.
- Gently turn out of pan, onto serving large serving plate.
- Eat with a knife and fork, like in Italy.
Yields 1 happy birthday serving ;-)
Until next time, I remain ~
Your Chef and Tour Maestra,