Most days I need to pinch myself. When I moved to Mexico over 20 years ago I didn’t have a well-defined plan, I just knew that the options facing me in Canada were not what I was looking for. I wanted things simpler and purer than working for a large company and counting down the days until I could retire.
When I arrived on the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico it was like stepping back in time. At first, I lived in a small rural village with no telephone, intermittent electricity, and a million-dollar view of the Pacific Ocean. I spent my days learning Spanish by talking with village children and helping out in the kitchen of every woman I met—asking questions about the way they cooked and learning about the ingredients.
Eventually, I moved an hour down the coast to the tranquil resort area of Huatulco. Huatulco is an eco-minded and vibrant community with pristine ocean water, 36 beaches, lush public gardens, private schools (I have a 17-year-old daughter), medical services, and a wonderful mix of locals and expats that all get involved in community outreach—from organizing spay and neuter clinics for stray animals to building elementary schools in rural villages.
In 2008, I opened my restaurant, Café Juanita. I used my experience and knowledge of local ingredients and cuisine to put together a menu that I hoped would appeal to both locals and tourists. I hired a wonderful staff and trained them in the type of service I wanted to offer: casual, friendly, and welcoming. Almost 10 years later, I still have the same staff, and I believe our focus on teamwork is the secret to our success. Having my own business has been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. I love exploring different marketing ideas, meeting my customers, working with vendors, and continually learning about Oaxacan foods and traditions.
Doing business in Mexico was not without its difficulties, but I have found that the infrastructure in terms of permits and regulations very much supports and encourages small business owners.
The rent for my modern three-bedroom, three-bathroom house is less than $500, which makes it possible for me to save for further travel. This past year I traveled to Spain, Morocco, and Portugal.
The quality of the fruits and vegetables in Huatulco is outstanding: creamy avocados, flavorful tomatoes, juicy mangoes, and a dozen varieties of banana. For less than $20 I can stock my fridge with healthy goodness. If I do get sick—which I never do—a doctor’s visit will only set me back about $30.
Every morning I am excited to go to work. The village lifestyle from my early days in Mexico taught me so much about quality of life: time spent with family, slowing down, and acting as part of a community. Mexican culture is very welcoming and the people of Oaxaca are generous with their time and knowledge. When you walk down the street in Huatulco, strangers will smile and say, “good morning” and someone is always ready to lend a helping hand. Through my business’ success, I have had the opportunity to start a scholarship program which encourages teenage girls to continue their education. It is this ability to give back that makes coming to work even more meaningful.
I stand in my restaurant, glass of wine in hand, looking out at the Pacific Ocean and marvel at the vibrant pinks and oranges of the sky as the sun begins to set. I pinch myself to see if all this is real. It is.