Authentic Mexican dishes and customer service led Laura and Joseph Urtuzuastegui to open two restaurants in Maine. Now they give back through scholarships.
PORTLAND, Maine— All this week on NEWS CENTER Maine, reporter Hannah Yechivi will spotlight members of the Hispanic community who call Maine home and help make Maine a better place to live and work for everyone. The features are in celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month.
Laura and Joseph Urtuzuastegui moved to Maine nine years ago after Laura’s daughter, who lived in Cape Elizabeth, convinced them there was no authentic Mexican food in town and their food truck Mexican Dream could be a hit in Portland.
The daughter, April Perry, helped the couple open the food truck and co-owned it. Laura said she played a big role in the opening of “El Corazón”.
“My daughter called us, pulled me up one day, and we were living in northern Arizona, and she said, ‘Mom, I was thinking. Why don’t you come to Maine? There’s no good Mexican food,” Laura Urtuzuastegui said. “I was like, OK, let’s do this. So we took a leap of faith.”
Following the recipes of his Mexican family, Joseph always had it in mind to open a restaurant, and they did when they moved to Maine.
“El Corazón” means heart.
The owners say the restaurant’s name follows their love, passion and dedication to the food they make every day, which they believe comes from the heart.
A food truck, that’s how “Corazón” started. Four years later, they opened their first physical restaurant in the heart of Portland. Just recently, the couple opened Casita in South Portland.
The couple were born and raised by Mexican parents and grandparents. Having any Mexico related food on the table was a no brainer.
Restaurants offer tamales, enchiladas, tacos, mole, flan, queso fundido, tostadas, burritos and, of course, margaritas.
“Presentarle a la gente con platillos auténticos Mexicanos. No no mas del norte de mexico, pero ciertas partes del pais de mexico como Jalisco, Veracruz, Oaxaca.”
“Introduce people to authentic Mexican food, not just from northern Mexico, but from all parts of the country, like Jalisco, Veracruz, and Oaxaca.”
One of the most popular items on the menu is the Sonoran hot dog from Sonora, Mexico.
“It’s a meal in itself, and it originated in Mexico,” said Joseph Urtuzuastegui.
“Inside we have it on the wall, ‘Me casita es tu casita’, and it makes people more comfortable, welcomes them,” said Joseph Urtuzuastegui.
A welcoming feeling was how the Mainers have treated the couple since moving to Maine.
“I think it’s the best decision of our lives,” said Laura Urtuzuastegui.
“We met with the president of SMCC (Southern Maine Community College) and the director of the culinary arts program and decided to donate scholarships to their culinary students,” explained Joseph Urtuzuastegui.
“El dinero viene del corazón, si no disfrutas ese dinero del corazón diosito no te va a traer mas dinero, tienes que disfrutarlo con otra persona.”
“The act of giving money comes from the heart and if you don’t enjoy it with others, God will not bring you more. You have to share it with others,” Laura Urtuzuastegui said.
“One thing we always kept in mind growing up is to remember where you come from. Remember your language, your culture, adapt to the region you are in, but don’t never forget where you come from.” says Joseph Urtuzuastegui.
In November, El Corazón will celebrate El Dia de los Muertos, a very popular holiday in Mexico. Anyone who comes to the restaurant can bring a photo of a deceased loved one. Laura and Joseph will create a collage with all the photos, as a way to celebrate and honor their lives.
Laura says she takes pride in enabling women to be whoever they want. She tells of a woman who went from dishwasher to manager in a year.
“It’s an honor to see them succeed with pride and self-esteem. “Luchamos juntas…si se puede sonar.” If we fight together, we can dream!” Laura said.
El Corazon Restaurant is located at 190 State St. in Portland.
Casita is located at 158 Benjamin W. Pickett St. in South Portland.