Mid-Week Mugging is a series of features by BayToday. Each Wednesday, we will run a profile on a local business or organization that will be "mugged" with BayToday coffee cups. The subjects will then "mug" for our camera and we will tell a little bit about their story
When local entrepreneurs Maria Avila and Alfredo Hidalgo met online in 2003, it was less than a year before they were married in Toronto and began their entrepreneurial journey northward.
For years, the couple has operated a cleaning business with clients spanning from Huntsville to Sudbury. In order to remain central, the couple moved from Huntsville to North Bay in 2011.
In an effort to move away from the cleaning industry, the couple has recently started a new restaurant venture in the city's downtown core. Located across from CIBC on Algonquin Avenue, the couple opened Mr. Pancho Mexican Food at the beginning of the summer.
The location, formerly a pizza joint, has been vacant for two years. The couple has recently renovated the corner location, a highly visible spot which boasts a patio and close proximity to the waterfront. Patio guests can watch their dinner sizzling on the outdoor grill, and those who prefer indoor dining can relax in a brightly-coloured, taqueria setting.
"We like the Bay because it reminds me of home," mused Hidalgo, a jovial Ecuadorian expat who enjoys the views of Lake Nipissing. "Downtown is really nice," he remarked, noting the opportunity for growth. "There are a lot of tourists here."
The restaurant's moniker is a tribute to Maria's late grandfather Francisco, aka "Pancho", from the Mexican state of Durango. Maria reminisces about how he would never be seen without wearing his signature vaquero pieces: a sombrero and a long sleeve shirt. Maria originally hails from the city of Culiacán in the Sinaloa state of Mexico.
A dentist by trade, Maria gained experience as a restaurateur when she closed her dental practice to help her mother Esperanza run a restaurant in Mexico. The couple is currently running the restaurant with the guidance and expertise from Esperanza and Martina (Maria's aunt and chef by trade) to create authentic Mexican fare. Alfredo enjoys burritos the most, while Maria prefers tostadas.
The restaurant's menu focuses on crowd favourites such as nachos, guacamole, pico de gallo, burritos, tacos, quesadillas and more. On weekends, the family offers traditional dishes such as papa rellena and adobado pork for specials. They also plan on introducing homemade "aguas frescas" beverages to their menu. Currently, the combo platter is the most popular menu item. It features a burrito and a quesadilla, with a choice of a tostada or a taco.
Mr. Pancho plans on hosting a Grand Opening in August but has already been very busy since its soft opening. "A lot of people came," said Maria, who worked with Alfredo tirelessly during the first few weeks of the restaurant's inception. They have relied on Facebook, street visibility and word of mouth for their current customer base.
"It is a hard business to work in," said Alfredo. You have to work seven days a week."
The couple was surprised with how many of their fans shared their mother tongue.
"There are a lot of Spanish-speaking people here in North Bay," noted Alfredo. "There are people from Colombia, Peru, Chile, El Salvador and Mexico."
Maria and Alfredo are happy with the positive feedback they have received so far. The food is popular for folks of all ages---a five-year-old recently told Alfredo that Mr. Pancho had become her favorite restaurant. They already have regular customers who come 3-4 times per week looking for freshly made salsa and guacamole, the latter which is made to order. Vegetarians have also been happy with the meat-free options.
"It was a passion for us both," Maria said. "It's like a dream for both of us."