Ana Jimenez-Jenkins didn’t intend to be a restaurant owner, but after moving from Mexico to Halifax in 1998, she says the food business called out to her.
“As an immigrant, you don’t know how things will work out until you get to the new country,” she says. “I liked shopping for food at the market, so I decided I would try that.”
Eventually, she and her husband Wilson opened a bakery that included the Second Cup Coffee chain as a client. Because Jimenez-Jenkins cooked such wonderful Mexican food at home, they then opened a restaurant. Mexico Lindo, now on Dutch Village Road in Halifax, is a popular little establishment offering authentic Mexican food, including burritos, enchiladas, and soups.
It was difficult to juggle the baking demands and the restaurant business.
“I had nightmares,” Jimenez-Jenkins recalls.
So, she stopped baking and focused on the restaurant. She now has a successful business, with help from her sister who works there, and the lifestyle she wants. The restaurant is closed Sundays and Mondays and she makes time for an annual trip home to her village near Guadalajara.
Surprisingly, Jimenez-Jenkins wasn’t encouraged to cook growing up. The kitchen was her mother’s territory alone.
“Still now, she’s protective of her kitchen. She kicks us out,” she laughs.
With a background in accounting, Jimenez-Jenkins considered getting into clothing retail in Canada. But she’s content sharing her Mexican cuisine.
“It’s rich in flavour, not necessarily hot,” she says.
Her clientele has become more adventurous about trying new foods — something that makes the long hours worthwhile.
“Being your own boss is not as fun as people think, but the work becomes routine,” she says. “I think I have more fun now. I’m more relaxed.”
Jimenez-Jenkins’ route here is intriguing, as she and Newfoundland-born Wilson wrote letters to each other as “pen pals.” She travelled to Halifax to meet him and his four children, fell in love and, as they say, the rest is history.
She encourages immigrants to be open-minded and willing to try new things. “The first change was in my mind,” she says. “When I came to Canada, I had to start from scratch. It makes you stronger than you think you are. It is hard, but my advice is to not give up and eventually things get better.”
By Valerie Mansour
Photography by Bruce Murray, VisionFire