Why It's so Hard to Open a Modern Mexican Restaurant

I think Javier summed it up nicely in this article

He’s absolutely dead on…


I am glad he is not satisifed with Bracero, because some things there need a tremendous amount of work.

I guess San Francisco is way ahead of the curve on this one as they seem to have cottoned to Gabriela Camara’s Cala instantly, and for good reason.

Taco Maria also manages to thrive in Orange County…a place known for being so backwards in terms of food that it is on most national food publication’s blacklist.

Yeah, there’s a lot of ignorance out there, but it’s hard to tell if he is completely dead on or not. I would like to hear from other Mexican chefs personally.

I suspect being a Mexican chef in San Diego is about as tough as it gets precisely because less than an hour away you can buy the exact same food for a fraction of the price (he says this in the article). What are you going to do in SF, fly to DF just to get the tuna tostadas that cost a fraction of the price at Contramar? One imagines not…

I feel that reality is coloring his specific perspective more than he himself knows.

At least it hasn’t scared off Diego Hernandez, who has changed the name of his prospective restaurant to Verline from +52 (an incredibly wise decision imo).

I hope Verlaine is more like Cala and less like Bracero personally.

Yes, DD. Absolutely dead on.

LOL, you sound like you’ve been listening to D.Trump too much.

BTW, DF is no longer. It’s just “Mexico City” now.

And Don Plascencia and his SD area restaurants are groundbreakers, whatever you might think. His cusine is not only modern Mexican, it’s much more specifically modern Baja.

There’s a reason Diego Heranandez is opening in Los Angeles and not in San Diego :wink:

Other than the complaint about customers not understanding what Mexican food really is (and in SD I think that is a valid assessment) and the perpetual request for chips and salsa, the 3 things that rang true for me in Javier’s lament were:

  1. The amount of regulation and compliance required to open a restaurant on this side of the border.
  2. The transient nature of BOH and FOH staff on this side of the border. He mentioned he had cooks and waiters that had been with him for 18+ years. The game of musical chairs played by cooks, waiters, and other staff may build their resume or boost their pay, but it doesn’t do much to build continuity or a team for a restaurant. The relationships that develop out of long term employment are valuable to both the restaurant and the employee.
  3. The fact that it takes much more time to stabilize a restaurant on this side of the border. He pretty much admitted that he didn’t spend enough time in the kitchen at Bracero at the beginning.

Well, San Diego has it’s own Mexican food at this point, so that is a problem. Sure… but it’s almost funny that it goes both ways. The people who know Mexican food from Mexico know enough to just drive the 30 min to Mexico to get it, and the people who prefer the San Diego variety of Mexican food don’t like the stuff styled after the Mexican food…

Why does the US regulate restaurants so much though?

When did BOH and FOH become frequently swapped? I feel like I’ve never encountered that. Isn’t the whole tipping controversy about the disparity between BOH and FOH??

“The fact that it takes much more time to stabilize a restaurant on this side of the border. He pretty much admitted that he didn’t spend enough time in the kitchen at Bracero at the beginning.”

Is it still in the beginning?.. When did the beginning end?

Personally, I find it weird to care about the chef of a place when he runs 13 other restaurants and is barely ever in a place. I guess I am alone in that. Same reason I don’t get why anyone cares about eating at a Gordon Ramsey restaurant even though he’s fun to watch on TV. It doesn’t seem like a restaurant setup in a flash by these mogul chefs have the same effect as ones that are the first heart and soul ventures from talented chefs driven by passion. Someone like Chef Zone at Howlin’ Rays working all day every day of service to produce pure excellence in a distilled, tight menu. That seems more connected to me somehow. This is not really related to the article, but a general sentiment.

I travel frequently in Mexico, multiple times a year and can honestly say the food in Baja is different than the mainland,and the Mexican food in San Diego is lacking. I think it’s important to remember that during the major Mexican migration years, San Diego was merely a “pass thru” location. If they could successfully navigate the border, they wanted to get away from it as quickly as possible, or at least head to other areas where they might have family, friends or a support network. San Diego has a taco/burrito Mexican food culture as a result.

I wish I had an answer for you on this one. We just opened a new food service building at work and the approval process was brutal. How do you get to 98% build out (on a 60,000+ sq. ft building) and have the building inspector suddenly say all the faucets in the (non-employee) bathrooms needed to have hot water? So between what the State wants and what the County wants, it probably is enough to drive an operator nuts.

I’m not sure what you mean by swapped. I think the point was that there is little employee loyalty on this side of the border as opposed to the Mexican side. If an employee is staying somewhere in Mexico for 15, 18, 20 years or more, they’re staying because it’s a good job and one that can support their family. For the restaurant owner/operator, that generally means they’ve got a pretty good level of trust in the employee and they know they can rely on them to keep an eye on things even when the owner isn’t there. Having looked at more than my share of resumes from chefs, cooks, managers, assistant managers in the food service industry over the last 40 years, it’s not unusual to see people hopping from job to job, staying only a few months to a year. In this business there is a LOT to be said for the mutually beneficial relationship that can develop between an employee and employer over time.

Braceros been open over a year and there have probably been at least 200 or more restaurants open in the interim. I was surprised to see the chef at his place in the Valle de Guadalupe shortly after Bracero opened even though that may be where his heart is. One the flip side, tho’, you’ve got his flagship restaurant in Tijuana, Mision 19 which is very good and remains very good even when he isn’t there, and it’s gone through several chefs over the years. Why is Bracero different? Not having worked at either restaurant I can’t say…

I’ve had the opportunity to eat in quite a few of the Plasencia Groups restaurants and can honestly say their food and service is generally very good to outstanding. But I can also honestly say, I prefer their restaurants in Mexico to the ones in San Diego. The menus are more interesting, the food is consistently good as is the dining experience.

Yeah…see, that is why I don’t think this is the right guy to be talking about the difficulties of opening a modern Mexican restaurant in the USA. His USA opening is worse than his Tiajuana or Valle de Guadalupe place… imo, it’s the quality that is the problem, not everything else. Eating at Contramar and Merotoro in DF (Mexico City if people insist upon such naming) compared to Cala in SF, the food is at least as good, and in many ways BETTER.

So maybe don’t come to the US and open up a half-assed version of a place hoping for a hip money grab and then complain about the dining culture here?

But who knows…

As for the swapping, yeah I didn’t realize what you were saying. That probably is true. I’m not sure why working at restaurants is viewed as so temporary in the US versus Mexico?

I am very torn by this complaining from him - yes there are some difficulties to open a restaurant in the US but it is by far not the first time him complaining about it on a regular basis. Guess what - most chefs/restaurants owner could argue the same points but they are not always doing but just try to make the best out of the situation. Without going through all of these points but everybody has this problems with regulations in the US when opening a restaurant not only you but perhaps he should also consider the advantages living in the US compared to Mexico beyond just restaurants (you can’t just pick the laws/regulations/benefits you prefer). High turn around in FOH and BOH ? - Everybody has the problem not only you and if you think SD is difficult don’t open a restaurant on the east coast or SF. Ask any chef of a restaurant with “ethnic” cuisine (can be from Asia or Europe etc) - they will acknowledge that most customers think they know their cuisine when in reality they don’t and most “foreign” cuisine are americanized that is nothing special to Mexican. And guess what Mexico isn’t the only country with very different regional cuisine which isn’t realized by 99% of all customers. And do you really think only Mexican cuisine is time consuming if you want to do it without shortcuts ? Perhaps he should start taking himself less important and realize that all his arguments can easily applied to any serious restaurant and his (and Mexican restaurants) are nithing special. To cite Obama on a person with many complains - “stop whining”.

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