Smile Politely

Maize’s Adam Lopez shares about the taco status quo

Maize Mexican Grill is a C-U favorite for Mexican food. When Maize took over the little spot on First and Green in 2011, it opened with just a vinyl banner out front that had a drawing of a couple of Mexican farmers tilling land. Now, they have a second location at The Station, a food truck, and were named Smile Politely’s #1 Best New Restaurant of the Decade. I spoke with Adam Lopez, Operational Director for Maize, to see how the restaurant is doing right now. 

A photo of Adam Lopez in front of Chicago's Bean. Photo by Adam Lopez.

Photo by Adam Lopez.

Smile Politely: Adam, can you tell us a bit about Maize and your role at the restaurant?

Adam Lopez: I am Operational Director for Maize Mexican Grill.

We opened our doors in 2011 with the goal of providing authentic, great tasting Mexican food accompanied with great service. And that’s basically my role: to drive the vision and goal that we established when we opened our doors. This involves handling the operations of our two locations, our food truck, catering and delivery, and ensuring those goals are met.

SP: How has the governor’s stay-at-home order affected your business? What has changed in your restaurant since the closure?

Lopez: Just like everyone else we either adapt to the ever-changing landscape or close with the stay at home order. Obviously, dine-in is no longer an option, so we shifted our focus on streamlining our to-go and carryout options.

SP: What has remained the same?

Lopez: Our goals are still the same: great tasting Mexican food with great service. Even with a to-go order, a smile and positive attitude go along way in these times that are stressful and anxious for many.

A to go drink in a white styrofoam cup with a cover, a stack of three tiny sauce cups with covers, two tin-foiled wrapped burritos, and an open bag of tortilla chips sits on a concrete bench outside with bushes behind. Photo by Jessica Hammie.

Photo by Jessica Hammie. 

SP: How have sales been since the Governor closed in-house dining?

Lopez: Initially, it was challenging not having our dine-in available or catering for large parties, but we’ve been able to hang in there. Our sales continue to improve each week over each day since the beginning of the stay at home order. Unfortunately, we’ve seen our friends and fellow restaurants that offered to-go close since day one which decreases options out there for our community.

SP: Your restaurant was one of the first to offer boxed lunches for children in our community for free. How did you guys think of this? What went into providing this service for our community?

Lopez: The culture built within our company is a giving one. We have a mix of ethnic, cultural, socioeconomic backgrounds that make Maize a great place to work and call our second home. For many of us, we have families that we are only able to provide for because the community has supported Maize since we opened. We wouldn’t be able to do this without Champaign-Urbana being such a great place to live. If I trace back the initial thought process, we can honestly say that the C-U area was responsible for allowing us to pursue our Free Student Lunch Program.

A close up of tacos and guacamole. Photo by Jessica Hammie.

Photo by Jessica Hammie. 

SP: What does your menu look like for to go orders? Are there any specials?

Lopez: It’s the same everyday menu that we have always offered. A few items don’t carry well for to-go, and we didn’t want to offer items that would maintain the same level of quality that you would receive when dining inside. As for specials, we believe tacos can make anything special. At least for me, I’ve never started a meal with tacos and felt worse. Maybe regretful that I ate too many!

SP: Are there certain menu items you think would be best for carryout?

Lopez: Tacos, burritos, and nachos work really great for carryout and are always delicious!

An overhead photo of takeout food: a close styrofoam container has a metal fork on top. There are small cups of sauce with covers on them. A bowl of tortilla chips is in the center. An open styrofoam container of corn taco shells with rice and fillings is mostly eaten. Photo by Jessica Hammie.

Photo by Jessica Hammie. 

SP: What’s the best way to get Maize to go? Call? Online?

Lopez: We do offer online ordering at or over the phone. Online orders are best especially during our dinner hours that can be especially busy.

SP: How can loyal C-U customers help support Maize at this time?

Lopez: Whether you order from us or someone else, buy local. Support local. Remember that the smallest gesture goes a long way whether in the form of an order, a tip, or a thank you. Everyone who is still out there working are here for you. We have a Go Fund Me for the Free Student Lunch Program available on our Facebook page. We (at the time of this response) have now served over 1,000 lunches. Anything helps.

SP: Should customers let you know if they do not need silverware, napkins?

Lopez: It’s not necessary but helpful.

SP: Do you have any alcohol available for carryout?

Lopez: We do not have alcohol available. Like our food, our margaritas are made from scratch without any premade mixers. We don’t want to serve anything that we couldn’t duplicate inside the restaurant when you dine in.

SP: Cash or credit?

Lopez: Paying cash helps offset the credit card processing fees that we are charged, so cash is definitely preferable if possible. But honestly, whatever is most convenient for our guest.

A tostada with onions, guacamole, and meat is inside a styrofoam container. Photo by Jessica Hammie.

Photo by Jessica Hammie. 

SP: Is there anything that customers can do to ensure the health and safety of your carryout team?

Lopez: Please practice the recommended social distancing guidelines and be kind. We aren’t here to police individual efforts, but please stay mindful that only one person needs to order for a group and respect our distance as well. We have to-go stations set up, so please allow us to direct you to your order.

In addition, if you are ordering over the phone, please be ready with your order. We take hundreds of calls a day, and it’s just polite for us and others who are waiting to order as well.

SP: Anything you’d like to share with the C-U community?

Lopez: Everyone here at Maize is completely humbled and grateful for being part of the C-U community. Please continue to make the best decisions for you and your family and stay safe. Support local, not just today under the stay at home order, but always — even after the ban is lifted.

100 N Chesnut St
11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., daily

Top image by Anna Longworth. 

Food + Drink Editor / / instagram

More Articles