Lucero Lozano and her husband Merle Lingard run Fiesta Mexicana in Bishop's Falls. Photo by Justin Brake/Special to The Telegram
Lucero Lozano is somewhat of a perfectionist and has every reason to be - she is attempting to introduce Mexican culture to Central Newfoundland one plate at a time.
Nestled away in the town of Bishop's Falls is Fiesta Mexicana, a bright orange box or a restaurant that echoes southern Mexican culture with its design. Inside, it offers something even less common in these parts - authentic Mexican cuisine made from scratch.
Just over a year ago Lozano and husband Merle Lingard opened the restaurant on generations-old Lingard family farmland, embarking on a risky business venture.
"We've had the comment from people in St. John's, who said, 'If you had this in town, you would have a lineup out the door,'" says Lingard. "My philosophy from the start was, 'If people want Mexican, they're coming.'"
In recent months Lingard's prediction is proving true. More than half of the restaurant's business is coming from out of town, he says, and the couple is increasingly seeing more and more clientele from other communities.
They met six years ago when Lozano was visiting from Mexico City. The two fell in love, she and her son moved to Newfoundland, and Lozano and Lingard married and had a child together.
While Lingard was occupied with his full-time job as an area superintendent with the Woodlands Division of Abitibi-Bowater, Lozano was home with their children, missing her siblings and devising a plan to bring them to Newfoundland.
"When I came here and looked around there was nothing," she says, noting the absence of a place with a relaxed social atmosphere like the restaurant she ran back in Mexico. "When my mom was here she asked where we could go to sit down and chat," she explains, pausing every so often to find the right words, "so we went to Tim Hortons."
Lozano's brother came to Bishop's Falls to help Lingard build the restaurant and her two sisters worked inside when it opened for business.
But there wasn't enough business to support the staff, the couple explains, and Lozano's siblings had to leave the island to find work.
"I was advised at the beginning to give it time, that it will take time with the locals," says Lingard, describing how curious town residents would drive into the restaurant's parking lot for a look but not come in to try the food.
Many of those who did come into the restaurant were ordering club sandwiches and caesar salad, prompting the couple to add more American foods to the menu to keep customers happy.
They also began offering samples of their specialty quesadillas to give locals their first taste of authentic Mexican food and, before long, news of the restaurant had reached Grand Falls-Windsor and Gander.
"People who want authentic Mexican food don't mind a 10-minute drive from Grand Falls," says Lingard. "And Gander is a perfect example. If they want Mexican, they come in. The ride doesn't mean nothing to them - they come in for an evening out."
The summertime has been particularly kind to the restaurant, with tourism providing the much needed boost in business, but the couple hopes the food will attract a year-round local clientele.
"When I'm cooking here, I could use a lot of things (the supplier) already makes, but I don't," explains Lozano. "I do it the way I know. Maybe it's the difficult way to do it, but that's the way I know. So people who know Mexico, who have been there, they like to eat more natural food."
The menu includes seven authentic Mexican dishes, including home-cooked enchiladas, Lozano's locally famous quesadillas, made from scratch with corn flour, a southern Mexican staple, and "Tacos Newfie," a spontaneous creation where Mexican food meets a Newfoundland favourite, "meat and potatos."
"One day me and the b'ys were having some beers and frying up some moose meat. I asked Lucero to prepare it," he says. "She took some potato, cubed it up and put it in with the moose. She melted cheese over and and served it with tortillas and salsa. I said, 'Now this is a Newfie taco, meat and potatoes,'" he laughs, explaining the restaurant version of the concoction features beef.
The menu also features a Tex-Mex section, with the common items most other Canadian-Mexican restaurants offer, a handful of appetizers, and even a selection of seafood.
Behind the bar, Lingard makes a mean Margarita and the couple sells twice as much Corona as they do any other domestic beer.
Lozano is the only cook in the kitchen but has a small staff helping her bring food to the customers. Her 10-year-old son also helps out, clearing the tables when it's busy, and the couple's four-year-old daughter proudly sets the cutlery from time to time. When the kids aren't in the restaurant, they're likely out playing in the front yard of their home next door, where Lozano can watch them from the kitchen.
When Lingard finishes work, he's at the restaurant too, helping out however he can, usually greeting and chatting with visitors.
"They appreciate that personal touch sometimes," he says.
"Newfoundlanders are pretty chatty," Lozano laughs.
Fiesta Mexicana is unique to Central Newfoundland and perhaps the rest of the province but it's a family business through and through, tucked away in the community of Bishop's Falls.
"The main reason for building right here is because it is family land," Lingard says proudly. "I know we would be doing better in the mainstream of Grand Falls, by the McDonald's, but it's a great benefit that we're next door. We have small kids."
The restaurant is located at 17 Main St. in Bishop's Falls, off Exit 21. For more information, including a full menu, visit: www.fiestamexicanainc.com.