At work, Beatriz Marivel Calderón-Villaseñor likes to be surrounded by things that remind her of home.
Her tidy office past the kitchen at BMC Market is painted bright purple and filled with family photos, cacti in terracotta pots and colourful María dolls — an homage to her birth city of Morelia in central Mexico.
Chef’s TableClick to Expand
Beatriz Marivel Calderón-Villaseñor
● Restaurant: BMC Market, 722 Osborne St. and 1113 Henderson Hwy.
● Age: 53
● Specialty: Tamales and morizqueta
Since opening a decade ago, the small South Osborne taqueria has truly become a home away from home for Calderón-Villaseñor, 53, who goes by Betty.
"I spend, like, 14 to 16 hours here a day, so I say this is my home really," she says. "It’s why I try to keep everything nice."
She arrived in Winnipeg with her husband, Rigoberto Colin-Carmolinga, in 2000 by way of the United States. The couple left Mexico in the ‘90s seeking better opportunities for their children, Irving and Shania, both of whom are following in their father’s footsteps and studying engineering.
Colin-Carmolinga is trained as a mechanical engineer but, like many immigrants, his credentials weren’t recognized in Canada. The couple decided to strike out on their own and struggled with an ill-fated marketing business for nearly a 10 years before realizing Calderón-Villaseñor's dream of opening a small Latin market.
"One day my husband says, ‘You know what? This isn’t working. If you want, we can start the store,’" she says. "It was a very limited budget."
They started selling pre-packaged foods, spices and dry goods, but quickly realized something was missing.
"As Mexicans, we missed tacos," Calderón-Villaseñor says. "We are doing tacos the way that we did back home — it’s very simple, but very tasty and very affordable."
While most restaurants in Mexico specialize in one style of taco, Betty has built a menu that represents her favourite flavours and her family. Tacos sell for $2 apiece and each tortilla is pressed and fried to order. Everything on the menu, from the chorizo to the carnitas to the pastor, is based on a family recipe. The barbacoa (braised beef cooked with guajillo chile sauce) comes from her 96-year-old grandma, Eulalia.
"She is from a small town and she’s very well known for making a very good barbacoa," Calderón-Villaseñor says. "I tried to do it how she did and obviously it’s not the same, but it’s very close. One pretty important ingredient I use always is love."
As with all restaurants, the coronavirus pandemic has put a strain on the business, which has a second location on Henderson Highway. New takeout options and dedicated taco lovers have helped get them through the last nine months.
"I feel like I belong to this community," she says. "I was very concerned, but we have very loyal customers and they support us and help us to be here."
Is your grandma the person who taught you how to cook?
My memories from when I was a child is in the kitchen with my grandma… we’d have food, we talk, we joke and have a fine time. She has, like, a small business and for me it was fun to help her doing the barbacoa or whatever tasks she asked me to do. I really enjoyed it and I think she’s my inspiration.
When I got a little bit older… she gave me the apron and she gave me the money and she said, ‘You’re very smart, you’re going to charge the customers.’ And that’s what my daughter did when we started here and she would get mad at my son if he was in the register, because that was her task. But my grandma was teaching me a lot of things and she was a very hard-working woman.
You’re born meant to do something, and for me it’s this.
What does your grandma think of you running your own restaurant?
Oh, she’s very proud. She’s an old lady and she’s very proud of her family. Everyday when she wakes up she says she blesses in all directions because she doesn’t know where Canada is, but always in the morning it’s the first thing she does. That really, really motivates me to keep going. The journey wasn’t easy and it won’t be easy, but I really enjoy it.
How have you been able to balance the business and family?
I was working, but my kids were with me so I could see them too and that’s how we balanced that part. Working with my husband, sometimes it’s not easy because it’s your partner and your partner in life too. Sometimes he sees the business in one point of view and I have another point of view and matching them is not easy sometimes.
How does it feel to look back on where you started and where you are now?
Oh my gosh. It has been so hard; it was not easy. But it’s amazing to see how little we started with and how we’re growing and growing and growing. When we started it was just my husband, myself, my son and my daughter. Now, we have eight families who depend on us… and I see them not just as my employees, but as part of the family.
Are most of your employees newcomers as well?
Yes, I like to help them, because when you first come here you have a lot of problems with English and Canadians don’t give you the chance right away because you don’t have the experience. If we give them the opportunity, they will have a chance to get something better.
How do you keep your kids connected to their culture?
I teach them Spanish and they speak Spanish… and that’s a special part about BMC, (there are) many opportunities for me to share things with them, like the music — we always have Spanish music playing — and the food.
Do you have a radio station or a band that you like to listen to while you work?
I like Maná, which is like a rock band. Also, there’s this new singer from Mexico and her name is Ángela (Aguilar). She’s a young woman, is just 17. What I tried to do with my kids, I think her parents tried to do with her: be proud of your roots. And her music is like that old music, but with a twist.
What’s a specialty dish you like to cook at home?
Tamales, but just at Christmas. It’s hard to make them, but they’re very tasty.
Another thing I love is morizqueta, which is just white rice, but the interesting part is you make pork and a special salsa and you put it on top of the rice with cheese and a little bit of beans. It’s something from my husband’s side. We are from the same state, but different cities and before I met him I didn’t know about it, but now I love it.
What’s something that’s always in your kitchen or pantry?
A Mexican house without beans, without tortillas, without jalapeños is not a Mexican house.
What is your favourite comfort food?
I like macarons. I have sweet teeth and I like cake.
What’s your favourite Winnipeg restaurant?
I like Cafe 22 in Corydon and I like Clementines and also the French Way; those are the spots we like. Oh, and we have the Vera pizzeria up the street, which is a good one.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.