Little by little

CJ Richter, Jackie Richter, and Sophia Bakar standing at their pop-up taco booth outside.
CJ Richter, right, with wife Jackie, center and employee Sophia Bakar, want to expand their pop-up taco business into a market.

hen CJ and Jackie Richter are kicking back at a bar, dreaming about big things for their future, they always go back to one thing: Poco a Poco.

The Spanish phrase translates to “little by little,” and while their dreams continue to evolve, they always remember that slowly, with small movements, they will work their way towards making them come true.

So, it was fitting that when the Vallevista Avenue couple launched their food business last year, they named it Poco a Poco.

“That’s been our saying to bring us back to the ground to remind us that these things don’t happen overnight,” CJ said.

The concept for Poco a Poco is still progressing. Since last year, the couple has rented a commercial kitchen in Hazelwood. They hosted several pop-up deliveries, where Jackie would whip up some of her famous tacos or chowders, people would have a week to order online, then CJ would drop the meal kits off at homes across the city.

This summer they also hosted several weekend pop-ups at Hitchhiker Brewing, where they served up everything from Mexican cuisine to homemade Pop-Tarts. Now, they’re working to launch taco and salsa kits to be sold online and at local markets. They provide updates on their website, But their big dream still is to someday open up their own market.

“We’re just trying to create something that’s interesting, that reflects our values and personalities, some place that we want to spend a lot of time at that we hope you’d want to, too,” CJ said.

CJ, who grew up in Bethel Park and landed in New York City to pursue a writing career, produces content for commercials. Jackie, who was raised in Southern California and also worked in media, learned to cook from her grandmother at a young age. Although she’s Mexican, her grandmother and mother liked to cook all types of cuisine, from French to Asian.

“My grandmother’s kitchen was the strict kitchen and my mom’s kitchen was the fun kitchen where I could experiment,” Jackie said.

When the couple met in New York City, CJ was wowed by Jackie’s cooking. The couple loves to entertain and over the years found that others love Jackie’s cooking just as much as CJ does.

“We like good food, we like good drinks, and Jackie is very good at both of those, so we thought, let’s see what we can make of this,” CJ  said. After living in Chicago for several years, the couple, who now has two sons, Remy and June, moved to Mt. Lebanon last year during the pandemic to be near CJ’s family.

Jackie admittedly was a bit scared when they launched the business. She’s always been hard on herself when it comes to her cooking. But the positive feedback they received during the pop-ups helped inspire her.

“I’m so inspired by other people and I think, maybe I can pull this off, maybe we can pull this off. I want to pursue this,” she said. People who stop by their pop-up at Hitchhiker give her ideas or talk about their own joy of cooking.

When they talk about their dreams to open a market, their goal would be to create a space where you can get anything from fresh groceries to Jackie’s homemade foods. They even want to add a space for their friends who have launched home-based businesses to sell their products.

On the back of the koozies they created for Poco a Poco, they scribbled a phrase that broadly describes their current dream: “A lunch counter at the back of a dive bar hidden inside of a bodega.”