Guanajuato is a colorful city in the heart of Mexico with jaw-dropping Spanish colonial architecture and a history of being one of the most lucrative silver-mining regions of the 16th century. Guanajuato is where Maria Romero is from, co-owner of Reyes Market. Along with her husband, Salvador, the Romeros have owned the Carpinteria Avenue store and restaurant for 26 years.
We sat at an outside table on the patio, conversing through face masks on a warm afternoon. A few people drifted into the market while a couple finished a meal on the other side. I asked what kind of food Guanajuato is known for. For example, Baja, Mexico, has fresh and simple cuisine, featuring lots of seafood. What about Maria’s hometown? “It’s spicy. More like comfort food.”
When Maria and Salvador bought the business over two decades ago from Diane Reyes, it was a lot smaller, and food-to-order wasn’t available. So, over the years, the Romeros expanded the shop to include more grocery items and a menu for patrons to enjoy a sit-down feast. Maria said she and her husband worked well together, decided a long time ago to divide up the business responsibilities—while Salvador handled the market, Maria took charge of the kitchen.
“We started doing recipes like my mom and grandma used to make,” Maria said. The chilaquiles are her favorite. A classic Mexican dish of corn tortillas cut in quarters and lightly fried, topped with green salsa and can include crumbled queso fresco, fried or scrambled eggs, and a side of rice and beans. Meat, if you choose. “But everything’s good,” Maria said.
I asked about the best business advice they’ve received, and without hesitation, she said, pay your bills. “Pay your invoices first. Don’t let them go for 30, 40 or 60 days.” She said the previous owners had taught her that trick. “They said, always pay your bills. That way, you’ve always got your supplies covered.” The Reyes family owned the market before the Romeros, placing the business’ start in 1956. To withstand time, both families have stayed consistent in doing things right.
Which brings us to the key to their success: “We treat everybody the same,” Maria said. “It doesn’t matter what social bracket you’re in. If you have money or don’t have money, our service is the same.” I took a quick scan of a few patrons around the market. It seemed to be a mix of Montecitans in pressed shirts and neatly worn hats, field workers just off of work and moms with kids. Reyes had that “come as you are” feel to it. No pretension. Just good food and good people.
Their trade secret is something we’ve heard from many businesses in the food industry before: consistency is vital. “Just do good food and take your time with it. Constantly check on everything. The way the food is cooked, the recipe. Make sure it’s consistent.” If Maria could give her and her husband one piece of advice to their younger selves, it would be to slow down and not take everything on themselves. “Don’t try to do it because you can. Eventually, it will catch up with you, and you will get burned out.” She admits the couple worked in the business seven days a week since they opened until just three years ago when they decided to close on Sundays to have a break. “We take one day off to regenerate.”
So what’s the future of Reyes Market? “That’s the million-dollar question,” Maria said. “With everything changing, we just do one day at a time right now.” When I asked if there’s anything she’d like to add, Maria looked off to the middle distance before speaking again. “God has been good to us. I think that’s key. That He placed us here for a reason.”
Reyes Market is located at 4795 Carpinteria Ave.