A Little Bite
Authentic Mexican Kitchen
1130 Baltimore Ave. SE, Suite F (behind the post office)
Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
BANDON - Growing up in a small Latino community in California, Dawn Churchill started at about age 10 helping the neighborhood grandmothers put tamales together for local fundraisers. That sense of camaraderie formed the way Churchill still looks at the world - people helping each other.
Churchill, owner of A Little Bite, now serves the Bandon community the tamales she learned how to make as a young girl, along with a full menu of authentic Mexican cuisine, to eat in or take out from 1130 Baltimore Ave. SE.
"This is where it started, around a table," Churchill said of her childhood. "There's something about getting around a table and filling your stomach and heart at the same time."
Around that table is where Churchill dreamed of someday having her own "taco shop."
Though she has not had mentors or formal training, Churchill gained the confidence to cook through trial and error. In college, her friends called her "Martha Stewart on a paper plate" because she could cook up a storm.
Churchill started making tamales for friends and other customers about 20 years ago to supplement her income as a single mother. Her tamales were popular and in demand.
She decided to leave California and come to Langlois last September, where her grandmother lives and parents retired to eight years ago. After owning her own house cleaning business and working in hospital administration, earning degrees to help her advance in her career, Churchill was ready for something different - a slower, less stressful pace.
"I decided to do what made me happy," she said.
She started making tamales about three weeks after moving to the South Coast, and began selling them at the Old Town Marketplace Farmer's Market. The tamales were a hit here as well, and Churchill was inspired and encouraged when people told her she should open her own Mexican restaurant. That's when she found a space at the corner of the Baltimore Centre, behind the post office.
"I knew Erik and his mother from the Baltimore Centre and I had shared with Erik about my cookbooks and that I wanted to have a spot," Churchill said. "It was a blessing, they've been very supportive. Bandon has been very good to us. The schools are great, the teachers are great and people have been very well receiving."
Churchill was blessed with recipes from those grandmothers who first taught her to make tamales. The recipes were not written down, so she was invited to come to their homes and learn how to make the specialties she still prepares today.
"These recipes have been handed down for generations," Churchill said. "Everything is homemade, from scratch."
The concept of A Little Bite is take-away food that people can grab quickly for lunch or pick up something to heat at home for dinner. People can call in their orders if they don't have time to wait.
Customers can choose their protein, from carne asada, chorizo, tropical chicken, soyrizo, pork guajillo and lengua, including some locally sourced organic meats, and build their meal from there. Menu items include street tacos, super burritos, tortas, quesadillas, super quesadillas and Churchill's signature grilled citrus chile prawn tacos, super prawn quesadillas or super prawn burritos. There are daily specials, such as chile rellenos, and Churchill will prepare requested specialties such as beef tongue, stewed oxtail and carne apache. She can accommodate vegan and gluten-free clients too.
Most menu items are $10 or less. Churchill will also cater for small to medium groups, and has an assortment of pre-filled piñatas for parties.
Churchill also has the restaurant stocked with Mexican items from frozen snacks to spices and in-between. A "pick-and-pull" refrigerated case features her homemade pico de gallo, pasta salad, seven-layer dip, bean and corn salsa, cucumber cactus salad, Spanish rice, refried beans and tamales (of which she makes about 1,600 a week). There's even homemade desserts, including a decadent dulce de leche cake and generous portions of traditional Mexican flan.
"Every customer that walks in the door is part of making my little taco shop dream come true," Churchill said. "I want them to be happy and to empower people to try new things."
Churchill has visited Mexico many times with her now ex-husband. She learned the specialties from different regions, even Guatemalan and Salvadorian food. Her award-winning cucumber cactus salad, made from nopal cactus, was another recipe gifted to her from a friend in Guanajuato, Mexico.
"I work a lot with nopal cactus, in stews and for vegetarian dishes," Churchill said.
Her avocado ranch pasta salad is a hit with the high school kids, who run over to A Little Bite during their lunch break. Her refried beans are made with burnt lard that she had to import from Mexico to achieve the authentic taste profile she sought.
Churchill has such a love of cooking and food that she's written a series of international cookbooks, which will soon be available at the restaurant.
When she's not at the restaurant or preparing food, she is busy being a mom. She even hosts her 9-year-old son's Cub Scout troop at the restaurant after hours.
"When you bring people around a table and food is made with love, there's definitely a type of unity," Churchill said "We're all coming together to engage ourselves, have fun and make this great food. If I'm not having fun, then why the heck am I here?"
"It's been really nice," Churchill added. "It's the best decision I ever made."