If you think that starting a business in your home country would be difficult, imagine starting one abroad. This was just the sort of challenge I was facing when my husband, Johannes, and I decided to open a Mexican restaurant in Lower Austria.
From an early age, I had learned a love of food from my father. He was the type of person who always enjoyed inviting people into our home and cooking for them. He taught me how to cook from the heart, to be adventurous, and to never be afraid of trying new things in life.
So with that in mind, Johannes and I set out on our first adventure as entrepreneurs by starting a catering business in Monterrey. It went so well and suited our personalities so perfectly that we decided to come back to Johannes’ native Austria and grow our business.
At the beginning, we thought that starting a restaurant would be impossible – it meant building something from absolutely zero experience in the culinary industry – but that didn’t stop us.
ARIS Cantina was a new beginning for us. It required some exciting and stressful months of planning, renovating, and refining our concept, but eventually everything came together and we moved back to Austria to embark on our newest journey.
In our restaurant, we believe in being unique and open-minded – we want to bring traditional Mexican food to our town, but we also experiment with international ingredients and flavors.
We keep our menu small, and we swap out dishes every month in order to encourage people to try new things. Many of our menu items are in Spanish, and it’s been so much fun to teach our customers how to pronounce “encacahuatadas,” or explain the difference between a tortilla, a taco or a tostada.
I’ve been trying to slowly introduce our customers to the fact that, in Mexico, we eat corn tortillas like they eat bread.
A big problem for us was the difficulty of getting “maseca” (corn flour) in Austria in order to make our homemade tortillas. Luckily, I found a Mexican in Prague who has his own “tortilleria,” so now we order fresh, handmade tortillas directly from him.
We’ve still had difficulty finding some ingredients like fresh “nopales,” “queso panela,” or different kinds of chilies that I’m used to getting in Mexico, but I always find a way to change or adapt the recipe with other ingredients.
Of course, my palate is different than some of my customers’, so sometimes I have to make substitutions anyway. For example, I love coriander, but many people here have said that they can’t handle it. So instead of using coriander when I make ceviche, I’ve started making it with fresh mint instead, which is much more familiar to the Austrian palate.
We used to offer “chiles rellenos,” which are paprika peppers filled with meat, smothered in sauce, and topped with chopped coriander. But when I started to notice that customers were nervous to order the dish, we started asking our customers if they would prefer parsley instead of coriander. They said that sounded much better, and the sales of that dish started going up immediately.
Avocado is another typical Mexican ingredient that I use all the time in my cooking, and I’m so happy that it has become more popular in Europe.
Avocado has started popping up more and more on menus all around town. On ours, we use it in fresh-made guacamole with homemade tortilla chips, in the morning we have an avocado bread with hummus, lemon juice, chili salt, and coriander, and it’s included in the tacos as an avocado cream.
When you go to a taco stand in Mexico, the first thing you will see on your table is coriander, diced onion, lemon, and salsa. The freedom of making your own taco – putting as much lemon juice and coriander as you want inside – is, in my opinion, one of the best things about Mexican food. Hopefully we will add something similar to the ARIS menu next year.
Now that I look back on the journey that Johannes and I have been on, it’s both funny and amazing the way that we have grown together as a married couple and as business partners. We can now stand on our own with a thriving restaurant, loyal customers, and the wonderful feeling of bringing good food to our community.
We have invested so much time, sweat, and headaches into this business, but thanks to all of that, we now know that we’re heading in the right direction.
Even though it’s only been a few months since we opened, we’re well on our way to something long-lasting. We have gotten to know our customers and learn how to make them happy while still introducing them to new and exciting things.
I don’t know if they always notice, but I hope they can taste the love that goes into every cup of cappuccino or every single plate that comes out of our kitchen. No one said it was going to be easy, but it has sure been worth the effort!
You can keep up with our menu on the ARIS Cantina Facebook page.