The Friendly Owner of Penelope’s Mexican Food – Mission Times Courier



Luis Zamora lives by a simple credo: treat others as you would like to be treated. You feel this shortly after meeting him. Even as a stranger, you quickly feel like a friend or family member. There is nothing artificial or fake about him.

Luckily for the College area, its down-to-earth authenticity permeates throughout its taco shop, Penelope’s Mexican Food, alike.

When Zamora moved into the property at 7102 El Cajon Blvd. two years ago, he knew he was coming to a different university area than the one he had visited as a teenager. He had gotten better, had become more family-oriented and a little softer, just as he had become as an adult. But it surprised him how much he would embrace the community and neighbors towards him and his business.

The same changes Luis saw along El Cajon Boulevard in the College area are the same changes he saw in himself that took him from being a 15-year-old dishwasher who ran the streets of ‘Imperial Beach to the family business owner he is today.

His dream was to bring the authentic Mexican comfort food his mother made for him as a child to a community that would appreciate it. Luis assures his clients that “nothing comes out of a box”.

The labor of love is not only seen in food. At any time, you can find Zamora behind the grill, working on the registry, or finishing one of the many construction projects on the property. He even built the outdoor dining area in the parking lot to accommodate his customers during the pandemic with his own hands.

Still, Zamora knows he didn’t do it alone. In addition to having her mom to help organize the menu early on, Zamora credits her College Area neighbors and fellow business owners for supporting her efforts.

Speaking of when he first arrived in the business corridor not knowing what to expect, Zamora says the College Area business district and its executive director (Jim Schneider) welcomed him with open arms.

“Jim came, I started to do research and I was like ‘without knowing it, I came to the right place'”, he recalls.

Customers come from all over San Diego County, including San Ysidro, Chula Vista, Mission Gorge, La Mesa and Rancho San Diego, but Luis thinks his College area customers are special.

“If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t go anywhere else. I’ll be here,” Zamora said, adding that there had been five Penelopes to enter the restaurant simply because they shared her name. Each time, a smile appeared on his face as he remembered why he got into the restaurant business.

The shop is named after her niece who died months before her first birthday. He knew his restaurant, like her, would make an impression on people.

“I want people to know they’re coming and they’re going to have amazing food first,” he said. “They will feel at home. You come here and you feel like part of the family. This is how I treat my clients.

— Austin Smith writes on behalf of the College Area Business District.


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