Thursday, November 16, 2000

A little touch of Mexico


Store's appeal reaches beyond Hispanic community

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — Ray Garcia was raised in Mexico City, but when he came to Northern Kentucky 18 years ago he liked it so much he made it his home and started his own upholstery business.

        Now he's helping make the area more of a home for members of the growing Northern Kentucky Hispanic community with La Mexicana grocery and restaurant specializing in authentic Mexican food.

[photo] Susana and Ray Garcia own La Mexicana. The store is two doors down from Mr. Garcia's upholstery shop.
(Patrick Reddy photos)
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        “This is home to me,” Mr. Garcia, 46, said Wednesday while splitting time between the upholstery shop and the grocery, located two doors apart near Seventh and Monmouth streets. “I first came to Lexington in 1979 and worked on a horse farm with a friend for about a year before coming here. I love the change of seasons and the friendly people.”

        After spending his first 16 years in Mexico City, Mr. Garcia traveled to Southern California, where he learned the upholstery trade while still a teen-ager.

        “I knew I wanted to stay in the U.S., and I wanted a trade,” he said. “I don't go back to Mexico any more.”

        He operated the J&C Upholstery Shop for several years in Bellevue, where he and his ex-wife also had a small Mexican grocery that is no longer in business. His two grown children went through the Bellevue school system.

        Three years ago, he decided to start another grocery in the building near his new upholstery shop. It was an immediate hit.

        “We have a lot of Hispanic customers, but we also have a lot of local, longtime Northern Kentucky customers who have traveled to Mexico and know what real Mexican food is,” he said. “They come here for special sauces and fresh peppers they can't get in other stores.”

[photo] La Mexicana, on Monmouth Street in Newport, appeals to those with a taste for real Mexican food.
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        All the food, including the produce, is trucked in from Chicago. Most of the canned and packaged food goods in the grocery have labels in Spanish.

        The restaurant specializes in true Mexican food, offering 11 different fillings for the soft tacos and burritos including marinated pork, beef and goat meat.

        “On Saturdays and Sundays, we prepare Mexican specialties that you won't find in any other Mexican restaurant in the Cincinnati area,” Mr. Garcia said.

        “We're crowded all day on the weekends, and most of our customers are from the Hispanic community. It's a lot of work, but we really enjoy it.”
       



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