Team at Mesa in Hamilton.

As a little girl in San Miguel, Mexico, cooking was always a big part of Veronica Sanchez’s life. She’d visit the local market with her aunt where she would sell homemade candy and after school would help another family member prep vegetables for the tostadas and tamales she sold from the storefront she built in her home.

After arriving in Canada as a tween, Veronica’s relationship with food only grew stronger. “It connected me to my culture, my home and my family,” she shared. Cooking became a way for her to channel her creativity and energy. She loved testing her limits, learning new skills and experimenting in the kitchen. Her family was also a big fan of her cooking and after working for other businesses she eventually was led to sharing her love for food through her own restaurant, Mesa in Hamilton, Ontario.

Mesa is a celebration of authentic Mexican cuisine. They serve traditional dishes using traditional cooking methods as much as possible. What sets Mesa apart from other Mexican restaurants is the “TLC” they put into every aspect of their food. “Everything is made fresh by hand,” Veronica shared. “We don’t cut corners, even our margarita mix is made from scratch.” Mesa has also maintained the familial culture throughout their business. Veronica looks at her staff as family as they are tight knit and supportive of one another. This atmosphere shines through into their restaurant too. Veronica herself even tries to visit as many tables as possible during service to interact with her guests, introduce herself and catch up with familiar faces. Similar to what you’d experience in Mexico and sadly what many restaurant in North America have lost over the years.

Nachos on table at Mesa in Hamilton.

For Veronica to get to where she is today, running a successful restaurant in Hamilton, she had to start somewhere with building her experience outside of her family kitchen. Prior to opening Mesa, Veronica was working as a head chef for a family-run business called Mex-I-Can which was located on the same street Mesa sits on today. She spent five years trying to resuscitate the business during a struggling time. This experience allowed Veronica to gain the skillset for running her own business. “I took so many important lessons away from the experience—what to do and what not to do—in terms of leadership, menu development and so much more,” she explained. The relationships she built in the James Street North community also helped her when she eventually opened up shop there. Sadly, Mex-I-Can suddenly shut their doors due to issues with the building they were located in and although sad and grateful for her experience, this is what motivated Veronica to pursue her own venture.

The Hamilton community’s reaction to the closing of Mex-I-Can was a strong indication that there was an appreciation and demand for Mexican cuisine in the area. Although there were other Mexican-inspired restaurants, nothing served the traditional, authentic cuisine. It was evident what Veronica had to do and that was deliver to Hamilton a part of her culture and heritage, Mesa.

Today Veronica still can’t get over how much Mesa has exceeded her expectations. She explained that she really underestimated how popular her restaurant actually would be. “When I take a step back and see what I have built and that it has exceeded my expectations in every way, I feel that it is my biggest milestone for me as a chef and entrepreneur.”

Mesa continues to be a focal point of Mexican cuisine in Hamilton and Veronica hopes that one day her children will eventually take it over for her to continue on the legacy. In the meantime, she leaves other aspiring entrepreneurs with the following advice: “There are so many pathways to success nowadays but it all starts with making the decision to just go for it. The vision won’t work if you don’t. Seek out resources and relationships that inspire you and push you closer towards your goal. Passion and confidence in your abilities are essential.”

Written by: Lauren Marinigh, Social Media & Content Specialist, Futurpreneur Canada