The Pride of Puebla
Loren, Mari and family offer authentic Mexican cuisine
By Christine Bavender
Photos by Stan Gurka
It’s a family affair at Loren & Mari Mexican Grill in Carmel. From the front of the house to the bustling kitchen filled with the delicious scents of simmering dishes, you’ll find one of the nine Xochitlatoa siblings or their parents Lorenzo and Marina.
“We’ve all worked in restaurants and thought about doing this a few years ago,” said 25-year-old Antonio Xochitlatoa (pronounced So-chi-ckla-toe-ah). “Now everyone is older and we knew we didn’t want to continue to work for other restaurants but rather, do our own thing. We all had good ideas about the food we wanted to serve.”
Loren & Mari opened Aug. 8 in the Merchants Pointe Shopping Center, just west of Keystone Parkway, on 116th Street. The site caught the family’s attention because it’d sat empty for some time and posed a challenge.
“We wanted to commit to this place and see what happens,” said Socorro, one of Lorenzo and Marina’s two daughters. “So many people say the same thing – ‘I hope you can do well here because so many others haven’t. They tell us they were surprised to see we were open – that one day they’re driving by and it’s empty and the next day here we are.”
If not for Jose
The restaurant is the culmination of a lifelong dream of Lorenzo and Marina who have spent 20 years working in the food industry.
“Our parents were the number one motivation to open this restaurant – to not have them work one day,” Soccoro said.
“They’ve done so much for us and our siblings – to help us grow and be where we are right now,” Antonio added. “They’ve always seen to us first and we want to pay them back. We keep telling them that but they don’t listen. Our dad is always moving – it can be exhausting to watch. We get tired and want to grab a seat but he’s still going, so how can we do that!”
But if it weren’t for their youngest brother, Jose, who has spina bifida, Antonio and Socorro say none of this would probably even exist.
“In Mexico if you don’t pay up front (at the doctor) they won’t treat you, so he’s pretty much the reason we all moved here,” Socorro said. “Dad moved here first to provide for Mom and Jose and the other eight of us. The idea was for him to work here a few years and come back, but for whatever reason my parents decided it would be best if we all moved here.”
“We left family and friends and pretty much everything behind. One day Mom just said we were moving to the states tomorrow,” Antonio said. “None of us knew English, we’d never gone out to eat – it was all new to us. So, mom always likes to bring that up - if not for Jose, none of this would even exist.”
Simple and Relaxed
It also likely wouldn’t exist if not for the authentic traditional dishes from the Xochitlatoa’s hometown of Puebla, Mexico.
“We didn’t want to be ‘another’ Mexican restaurant – a Tex Mex. We wanted to be more original,” Socorro said. “These dishes are straight from my Mom’s recipes – everything she learned when she was little. She makes them exactly the same – except we do lower the spiciness of certain dishes. We like spicy food but understand not all of our customers are on that spicy level. We just want them to try something different.”
The menu also features items for those who aren’t in the mood for Mexican – chicken sandwiches, burgers, pasta, steak, etc. But for those wanting a taste of Mexico, the Poblano cuisine features dishes such as Mole Poblana – chicken featuring a rich sauce made of more than 20 ingredients; carne asada, tacos al pastor or the cemita – a sandwich with bread covered sesame seeds.
When it comes to what’s served to their customers, Marina is a “perfectionist.”
“She will not put anything in the window to go out unless it’s cooked the right way. She’s always been like that,” Socorro said. “She can tell you right away if it’s not right – if it doesn’t taste the way it should.”
And, what enhances the taste, Soccoro said, is the simple and relaxed atmosphere at Loren & Mari.
“We wanted a calm, simple, and relaxing vibe - we don’t want to outshine the food,” Socorro said. “I wanted my brothers and mom and dad to know people aren’t coming here for the decor or what the table looks like, but for the food - for what we put in front of them. We want them to focus on the dish they’re having.”
As for what the future holds, both siblings hope to open several more locations of Loren & Mari Mexican Grill.
“But, right now this one location is taking all of our energy and attention and we want it to succeed. If that means we have everyone here every single day, we will be here every single day,” Socorro said. “We want to create a name for ourselves and then move on to the next step and our goal - to have our parents retire in five years and enjoy what they’ve created.”