Maciel Bañales Luna didn’t grow up like other kids in Durango, Mexico, a sparsely populated and densely forested state in the country’s northwest region. Her mother sought out plant-based cooking workshops, while her father preached the importance of conservation. Bañales Luna says that both of her parents’ personal interests were “ahead of their time,” but their influence on her education, career, and latest entrepreneurial venture is incalculable. Bañales Luna is opening Los Angeles’s first-ever vegan butcher shop in Highland Park on Friday, July 8, along with her husband Joe Egender and business partner Dustin Lancaster. Maciel’s Plant-Based Butcher & Deli brings together Mexican influences with classic deli touches, representing a culmination of Bañales Luna’s lifelong dedication to health, nutrition, and environmental stewardship.
Located at the corner of York Boulevard and Aldama Street in the former Fusion Burgers space, the 1,000-square-foot storefront is built for both takeout and lingering, with half a dozen seats inside and more along the sidewalk. “We see it as a neighborhood butcher-deli,” says Egender. “You come and get your weekly meats, but also grab some sandwiches and aguas frescas, and hang out a little bit or take it home. We see moms and dads buying slices of turkey for their kids to make school lunches.” In addition to sandwich-making supplies, the shop will also sell premade charcuterie kits with weekend picnics and get-togethers in mind. Opening hours will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday.
Bañales Luna and Egender arrived in Los Angeles last year and settled in Echo Park. The couple previously lived in Brooklyn, where Bañales Luna served as a research fellow at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, studying the benefits of fasting on cardiovascular diseases and obesity. (Her educational background includes bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in health and nutrition.) While Bañales Luna was immersed in laboratory research by day, her free time was spent tinkering with recipes for plant-based meats and cheeses. She quit her job in 2020, dedicating herself full time to refining recipes and finding a home for Maciel’s in Los Angeles.
The couple began searching for a location with the help of Lancaster’s restaurant group, An Eastside Establishment (AEE), soon after moving to the city. Egender, a documentary filmmaker, knew Lancaster when he previously resided in LA. “I was really excited about the location in Highland Park,” says Bañales Luna. “It’s so vegan-friendly and has such a strong Latino community.” Lancaster’s deep knowledge of the city’s restaurant scene (AEE’s roster includes popular places like Bar Covell, L&E Oyster Bar, and Sogo) helped the couple avoid common first-time business-owner missteps. “He’s obviously been through it a dozen times. And so in a sense, he’s giving us his template,” says Egender.
Maciel’s menu draws from Bañales Luna’s cultural heritage and educational background. Central to the shop’s offerings are cold cuts made from recognizable ingredients like chickpeas, vegetables, seitan, tofu, spices, and brines. “The plant-based meat world has a little bit of a reputation of being highly processed,” says Egender. “It doesn’t have to be that way.”
The shop’s scratch-made turkey, bacon, pastrami, salami, chicharrones, and chorizo are legume-based and high in protein, vitamins, and fiber, says Bañales Luna. “We focus on four things when making the meats: the taste — that is the most important thing, of course, the look, the texture, and the health,” she says. Maciel’s line of spreadable cheeses includes cashew-based camembert, nacho, and jalapeno cheddar.
The shop’s sandwiches combine Bañales Luna’s meats and cheeses with breads from Rockenwagner Bakery. (Some sandwiches contain dairy-free cheeses sourced from Follow Your Heart.) For the morning crowd, there’s a breakfast sandwich made with vegan eggs, a choice of bacon or chorizo, beans, vegan cheese, avocado, onions, and salsa on a brioche bun. The Reuben comes with pastrami, sauerkraut, vegan cheese, and vegan Russian dressing on rye bread. Bañales Luna’s personal favorite is called the Flores, and is made with Mexican ribs, pickled onions, arugula, and vegan mayonnaise on ciabatta. “The ribs are a plant-based version of Mexican adobo ribs,” says Bañales Luna. “We use jackfruit as the base, along with a traditional adobo sauce that we make with dried Mexican chiles, tomatoes, spices, and a little maple syrup to give it a smoky, spicy, and slightly sweet flavor.” Rounding out the menu are sides (potato salad, coleslaw, cucumber salad), aguas frescas, jarred salsas, and dessert (Mexican chocolate mousse). (The full menu is below.)
Maciel’s array of plant-based meat, cheese, and sandwiches will appeal to the vegan and vegetarian set, but the couple aims to please meat-eaters, too. Prior to opening the shop, Bañales Luna hosted menu tastings to solicit feedback on the concept and food. “It was a good feeling when meat eaters were like, ‘I wouldn’t know the difference’ or ‘this is amazing,’” says Egender. “That was really gratifying because that’s been our main push this whole time, to cater to the community as a whole.”
Beyond finding their place within LA’s vegan and vegetarian communities, Bañales Luna and Egender are dedicated to appealing to Highland Park’s longtime residents and businesses. The couple plans to hire locally and staff Spanish-proficient front-of-house employees to better communicate with locals. Further, physical and digital menus are available in Spanish in-store; the shop’s online presence includes Instagram posts captioned in both English and Spanish. “There’s a lot of Hispanic people coming to the shop and asking all these questions and I immediately can tell they’re Spanish speakers, so I started speaking Spanish to them,” says Bañales Luna. “I really enjoy that.” While the couple has every intention of pricing the menu affordably for the neighborhood, they’ll need to balance it with keeping the business financially viable and accounting for ongoing inflation.
The timing for Maciel’s opening couldn’t be better, especially with the public’s growing interest in eating less meat and the increased knowledge surrounding the impact of industrial agriculture on climate change. “It seems like right now there’s a lot of meat eaters who are more open to not having meat every single meal,” says Egender. While the city’s robust vegan and vegetarian restaurant scene already includes plenty of Mexican-inspired spots, like Gracias Madre in West Hollywood, De Buena Planta in Silver Lake and Venice, and Cena Vegan in Montecito Heights, Maciel’s is here to fill a different kind of niche, and satisfy curious palates, too.