Iván Arturo Wadgymar, Mexican-Canadian businessman, born in Toronto but with deep Mexican roots.
He studied at York University in the Faculty of Environmental Studies, where he majored in agricultural science. He always had an interest in farms and agriculture, which led him to work with farmers in Ontario, Costa Rica, and Mexico, acquiring extensive experience in this industry in the process.
Iván, tell us about your experience as a businessman and corn producer in Canada:
In 2012, my friend Gabriela and I opened Maizal, a Mexican restaurant located in Liberty Village in Toronto’s west end, with a focus on highlighting the importance of corn dough as an ingredient in Mexico’s traditional dishes.
To be able to open our business, we took courses offered by the City of Toronto and governmental organizations that offer advice to small businesses, which was a huge help to work out a clearly defined business plan. When we opened the restaurant, still being novices in this business, we had the valuable support of friends and family. Other friends with similar businesses also advised us and we were able to obtain funds to bring a corn mill from Mexico and process the corn in Toronto.
Currently we are members of a cooperative called Cavaleiro Farm located in Schomberg, Ontario, were we grow an acre of corn ourselves. This plot of land serves as a place for research into corn varieties and seeds, and also as an educational centre, because a lot of people in the Mexican community and Canadians accompany us to sow and harvest corn so that they can learn first-hand about the process of making Mexican food from the Earth.
In 2015. MyPick, an organization supported by the Ontario government, recognized us as local organic producers. That same year, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture (OMAFRA) gave us the Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence, and we are the only Mexican restaurant that has this distinction.
We have also received recognition as pioneers in the sorting of organic waste, which is collected by the city in green bins, because we take it to the farm, turn it into organic compost and use it on the plants we grow.
What are you doing now, and what projects do you have?
Right now I’m working on sowing and milling corn here in Canada to use it in the traditional dishes we serve at my restaurant.
Maizal’s focus was the result of a keen interest in our culinary culture and of our disappointment with the quality of Mexican products we’ve found in Toronto.
The menu we offer is very simple but it’s high quality. Most of what we serve is based on nixtamal, which comes from the Nahuatl (Aztec) word “nixtamalli”, referring to corn when it is boiled with water and lime (or an alkaline solution), which softens its and dissolves the outer layer of the grain. We grind the nixtamal in the restaurant to produce pure corn dough.
Although this is becoming less common in Mexico, we want to promote this product in Canada as a healthier alternative and to promote our Mexican culinary heritage.
To produce good nixtamal, you need good corn, and not just anybody grows it. So to make our tortillas, we work on the raw material, buying it from certain small-scale producers in the area who grow the varieties of corn that we want.