This Examiner first encountered Julie King’s exquisite salsa at MINFoodie5, the fifth edition of Mass Innovation Nights stellar food-business fair. (MINFoodie7 is in two weeks at District Hall, and you’d better RSVP because it fills up fast.) When it hit my mouth, my taste buds started waving their pom-poms – and I bought a “purse-sized” (4-ounce Ball) jar on the spot.
This interview is part of the 10 questions for a food entrepreneur series for Examiner.
Q: What was the seed for what is now Villa Mexico Café?
A: We have been in business for 15 years now. When I came to Boston there weren’t any authentic Mexican restaurants. They were selling Tex Mex or commercial food. I missed my food a lot. So I thought: “Okay, I have to teach them about authentic Mexican food!”
Q: What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?
A: Opening our first place in Woburn. It’s not like Boston, but it was my hometown when I first came from Mexico and there was an opportunity there, I had a feeling… In those days, we didn’t have any Facebook or Twitter or Google. We had to build it by word-of-mouth. I said, “I’m going to do this the way I know: clear, authentic, and very honest.” And that’s how we grew.
Q: How do you define success?
A: My big success is to see my guests happy when they like my food. My place is not a restaurant. It’s my house. The people are not customers. They are my guests, my friends.
Q: How do you manage failure?
A: If the people are not happy with the food, I listen and we try to make a change. With my employees, if something is wrong and we can figure it out, okay, otherwise goodbye. Your employees are part of your success, so you have to share that, but the guests and the atmosphere have to be happy first.
Q: How do you cope with pressure? (Any secret recipes for taking care of yourself?)
A: I am a lawyer in my country. Working as a lawyer, you have a lot of pressure. But if you go crazy, you are not going to get anything done! When I am under pressure, I am the most determined person in the world. I function very well. Afterward, I can break. (Laughs) On the line [in the kitchen], I used to say: “Nobody will talk! I am the only one who will talk! I don’t want to hear even a fly!” It was a lot of pressure. But afterward, we could all just sit down and relax. After the pressure, it’s time to relax!
Q: What are you going to do next?
A: A friend who used to be my customer told me one day: “I promise I am going to help you to be relocated.” He’s a realtor and after he bought two buildings in the business district in Boston, he said: “Are you ready for your next place?” I could not believe it. To pay attention to somebody like me, I am a very small business, but they are thinking of me! It’s a little more than 1,000 square feet, so it will be a kind of restaurant, but take-out and catering especially, because of the location. I thank God that I have been meeting so many people who want to help me.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in the past year?
A: “Julie, keep doing what you are doing. You’re a hard-working person. If you keep going, you will be successful.” Also, “Just be yourself.”
Q: Give us your advice for aspiring food entrepreneurs… in 6 words or less.
A: I’m not sure it’s possible with 6 words! “If you want to do it, do it with love, and you will be successful.”
Q: You win the Oscar equivalent for your industry. When you take the stage, who will you thank and for what?
A: I would thank God for giving me the opportunity to keep working, my daughter because without her, I couldn’t be here, and all the people who believe in me and believe in my hands.
Q: What about Villa Mexico Café most feeds your soul?
A: To be cooking for the people, to make them happy. Their happy faces, oh my God, that is incredible.
Julie is working to reopen her brick-and-mortar location in downtown Boston, hopefully in January 2015. For now, you can follow her on Facebook or visit her website to buy some swoon-worthy, life-altering, no-hyperbole-here salsa.