Last spring, Alain Benighil–whose tiny Tienda la Libertad was wedged between Faz’s Hello Pizza and Chan Garden and sold mainly packaged, nonperishable Latino food–took a deep breath and bought the Dragon’s Lair Futons building a few steps to the east on West Liberty. The name hasn’t changed, but the new store is less tienda (a term that can refer to something as small as a market stall) and more mercado (which at its upper extreme can be stretched to cover a Walmart). It has two checkout counters and five full-time employees, all of whom speak Spanish.
Though Benighil doesn’t have meat, he does have produce–plantains, tunas (cactus fruit), chilis, avocados, herbs–as well as fresh baked goods, queso blanco, tamales, masa, and locally made tortillas. As for nonperishables, he has an aisle of Goya products, an aisle of salsa, fried pork rinds the size of plates, Mexican Pepsi sweetened with sugar instead of corn syrup, Spanish-language DVDs, and a check cashing service.
The thirty-something Benighil is a Parisian of Berber extraction. (His wife, Beth, is Michigan-bred.) Despite his relative youth, he’s an old-school shopkeeper, not a high-concept guy. The business plan he describes is modest and functional: “We have a Latino manager and another employee from El Salvador. They know what we need. And most of our business is by customer. They say ‘We want this and we want this,’ and we order.”
It can’t hurt that he’s a few steps away from Fresh Seasons Market, whose clientele has a penchant for authentic ethnic cuisines. In addition to first-generation immigrants, Tienda la Libertad has a following among those who keep Diane Kennedy’s Mexican cookbooks in their kitchens.
Tienda la Libertad, 2231 W. Liberty. 585-3796. Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.