Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Returning to Restaurants

Inside the second-floor dining room of Puebla 109, a sophisticated new restaurant in the heart of Mexico City, Eduardo García, one of the country’s most celebrated young chefs, explained that when it comes to running a restaurant, “one of the hardest things is finding good people.” García, who migrated to Georgia as a child to work with his family harvesting crops, later found work in restaurants, first in Atlanta and then in Manhattan, before he returned to Mexico to work with Enrique Olmera, Mexico’s most renowned chef. Now he serves impeccably cooked seafood and designer cocktails to the capital’s discerning hipster
chic demographic.

Other return migrants might be inclined to follow his example. Maria Fernández Ballestros, an analyst from Mexico’s Economic Competitiveness Commission, said, “In New York, there are social networks for Mexican migrants. In Mexico City, there could be a network for migrants who have worked in New York restaurants.” Right now, many return migrants who are aspiring to be entrepreneurs feel they have few resources to turn to for advice.

Alejandra Pinzón, a 21-year-old call center worker who returned to Mexico City after living for a decade in Kansas, is now working with her boyfriend, another return migrant, on a hamburger stand they’ve dubbed “Hamburguesas Homie.” With little guidance, they figured out how to source imported meat and craft U.S.–style hamburgers. “We put up a stand. People liked it. It tastes like food from the U.S.,” Pinzón said.

Still, at a sector-wide level, the availability of return migrants with experience working in restaurants is not yet seen as a strategic advantage in Mexico City. Juan Carlos Cuellar, head of communications for the Mexican Association of Restaurants, an organization based in the capital, said that he hasn’t seen specific figures on the number of return migrants working in the restaurant sector. The absence of attention to the role of return migrants in the restaurant business is part of a larger trend: return migrants are not being embraced and marketed as a strategic asset that can help boost economic development.

Even in Mexico City, few formal networks exist to help connect young people who have returned from living abroad. Pinzón believes an entrepreneur’s association for return migrants could help other would-be restauranteurs. For now, return migrants are left with few formal options for guidance on starting food stands or restaurants. “We just figured it out on our own—it was a learning process,” Pinzón said.

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