I live in a restaurant. Although my husband and I purchased a popular San Pancho eatery in 2005 to remodel for our winter getaway, its previous life lingers. New paint, fresh plaster, has not obliterated the first life of our Mexican home. The walls still hum with the memory of the meals. Sandra’s Restaurant was seasoned to perfection.
The telephone-pole advertising is tattered or missing now. The tables dressed in colorful linens are gone. The iconic photographs of Frida Kahlo that decorated the outdoor dining room grace bedroom walls instead. The wine and Margarita glasses that shimmered over the bar now stack behind cupboard doors. The dozens of votive candles burned to nubbins. The restaurant’s palapa-covered dining rooms, rich with tropical ambience, breathe new life as a potting shed, a studio, and a living room al fresco.
It took us a year to sort out our lot. When she sold her restaurant, Sandra left behind cartons of culinary accoutrements. Some of the pots and pans and dishes we kept, most we gave away. And Sandra left behind a behemoth of a stove. An oversize forged iron gas contraption on coaster wheels we call Black Beauty. She’s a cumbersome thing, not easily arranged within the kitchen work area. So we designed the space to suit her needs rather than ours. Black Beauty dominates the interior of the small three-room house.
Sandra sold the restaurant, she tells us, because customer demand grew stressful. Although it was a family affair with Beto, Carlos, Gaby and others tending bar, making music, taking orders, it was Sandra in the kitchen night after night, broiling and baking, stewing and stirring and arranging upon terra cotta plates her signature dishes.
She needed a break. But it wasn’t a long one. Cooking her passion, in short order she opened a catering business. Next door to us, next door to the former restaurant that established her reputation. We know her business thrives because most afternoons we whiff the sweet smell of her success wafting beyond her open kitchen walls: garlic sautéed in butter, cumin toasted golden, rosemary crisped in olive oil. She talks of opening another restaurant. Perhaps next season. A scaled-down version of the one we call home.
I have come to realize life in a restaurant has its advantages. When customers clabber down our concrete stairs in search of an excellent meal we have an opportunity to practice Spanish. And when people in San Pancho ask where we live, we say Sandra’s Restaurant. No address required.