Pushing The Envelope
Photos | Emma Highfill, Rose Wheat Photography
It can be hard to be a small business owner when your competition is big chains or franchises, but Jenny Torrence, owner of NOTO Burrito located at 822 N. Kansas Avenue seems to be managing things well.
It all started in 2011 when Torrence bought her first building in the NOTO Arts & Entertainment District to house Serendipity, an event venue for a variety of occasions, including wedding receptions, high school reunions and even comedy shows.
“I landed here on a fluke,” Torrence said. “I grew up in North Topeka and I had a whim about opening a wedding event space. I was walking up and down the streets peeking through windows, and when we looked into Serendipity, it was this white, old raggedy building and something just sparked.”
Shortly after buying the building for Serendipity, Torrence bought the two buildings next it and began renting those spaces to other businesses. When those renters vacated and the buildings were left empty, Torrence decided to open NOTO Burrito.
“I had always told people that we needed a gourmet dive burrito joint in Topeka,” Torrence said. “My friends said, ‘why don’t you do your dive burrito joint?’ I knew nothing about cooking or anything about kitchens. But my friend Pedro Concepcion, who helped open Burger Stand, Boca Cafe and the Pennant, knew enough for the both of us. So I reached out to Pedro and he helped me open NOTO Burrito.”
Torrence and Concepcion worked together to design a menu that would fulfill Torrence’s dream of a funky burrito shop that she had always wanted. NOTO Burrito has a variety of Tex-Mex food that includes gourmet burritos, tacos, taco salad, nachos and bowls. Each menu item has a quirky name that fits her personality.
“I like a little tongue and cheek, I like to push the envelope. I couldn’t do that with Serendipity because I have three other business partners, so I have to watch myself, but here, I don’t have to worry about that. I wanted to challenge people a little bit. I think it’s fun to have people ask for Roman’s Wankie or Thai Me Up, or the Big V. I just love it!” Torrence said.
When Torrence first opened NOTO Burrito, she was one of the few restaurants in the area. She said she had no idea how hard it would be to run a food business.
“I don’t think people really understand how hard this business is,” Torrence said. “When we first opened, I had days all the time where we would bring in zero dollars. Our sales have slowly increased as other businesses have moved into NOTO, and the foot traffic has increased quite a bit.”
Torrence likes to be referred to as a Topeka home grown business or Topeka owner occupied.
“I love my town! I have a lot of pride in my community, and that is why I have joined so many different committees and boards—to help better my community,” Torrence said.
Torrence not only loves Topeka—she also loves people, all people. Acceptance is the underlying theme at NOTO Burrito. A large sign hangs inside the entrance for all to see that says: Welcome all sizes, all colors, all ages and sexes, all religions, all cultures, all types, all people, all beliefs are welcome and accepted. NOTO Burrito is for everyone.