This #WomenCrushWednesday, we’ve got someone we know you’ll love: Julie King, the owner of the delicious and authentic Villa Mexico Cafe!
Describe your business. What was your main goal in establishing it?
Julie: I was originally a lawyer in Mexico, and when we moved to Massachusetts I realized I could not litigate, or even be a paralegal. We moved because my husband had passed and, as an American veteran, he wanted our only daughter to study in the U.S. Since I had the responsibility of putting my child through school, I thought of ways to make money.
Working as an independent employee in a commercial delivery company, I came to learn that there was no authentic Mexican food anywhere in or around Boston. We lived in Woburn at the time, north of the city, and I decided that would be the business for me to open. The food industry is tough, but at least we would have steady meals and a chance for growth.
While seriously thinking about the venture, one day near City Hall I saw a vacant commercial space. Turns out the place was a former deli and everything was included in the rent. I went ahead and leased it then and there to stop thinking. We opened it on October 1999 and to-date I can proudly say we have remained open and in business from food sales alone. We have never sold alcohol and our dedication to customer service and authenticity is what has made us, and continues to make us, appreciated.
The goal of my business is to bring authentic, homemade, Mexican food to the people of New England and educate our customers about the real history, culture, and lifestyle of Mexico.
Why did you decide to become a female founder? What inspired you to start your business?
Julie: At the time, necessity is what pushed me. I feel that many women go into business because of that as well. It is still very difficult to be a working mother, to go to the top of the corporate list and be respected as a woman, mom, and boss. When I was a lawyer, corporate and second-hand to the legal director, I had no other life. My work was my life, but I loved it. Still, knowing I wanted to be a wife and mom, I left it all and came to another country to make that dream come true.
God works in mysterious ways, and I was destined to be a working lady again. My friends used to call me “Mrs. Business,” so I guess I was meant to be a boss! In thinking of what business to open, though, I knew it had to be something I liked and could enjoy doing. I’ve always loved throwing parties and getting together with people to eat, and I grew up with my grandma cooking and learning from her, so I thought a restaurant was something that aligned with my interests.
Seeing the lack of diversity in our state, and the fact that nobody really knew anything authentic about my country, further pushed me to open my business. I missed my food and I wanted to show people what they were missing too. It became a labor of love for representing Mexico, and for making people happy through food — the same food that made me happy as a child and that I enjoy so much every time I visit my country.
What are the greatest challenges of founding your own business?
Julie: At the beginning. the hardest part was to be taken seriously, and to learn how business operates here in the U.S. I have been taken advantage of monetarily, and have had very bad experiences with professional services from people like accountants or insurers. There are so many more opportunities for women now to take advantage of, from education to loans, that just weren’t even around when I began.
I have used all of my savings and investments for my business, and now I am finally thinking of how to plan for my retirement, because my daughter is helping run the restaurant. I’ve always said this: women can have children, illness, lack of education, or other barriers, but they will ALWAYS find a way to survive.
Men need to be pushed, supported, encouraged, to grow from the bottom up. And still, all the bigger opportunities go to men. They are paid more, chosen more, believed more. Nowadays, I am smarter and more aggressive about my business, its services, and prices, and I am trying to teach my daughter that. I know I am as capable as, or even more capable than, a man.
How have your experiences as a female founder shaped you?
Julie: I come from a family of business owners in Mexico, and from a young age my dad would always tell us, “If you don’t want to be told what to do then be your own boss.” That’s what shaped me.
I knew that even within an office setting I needed to be at the top, because — well — I didn’t like to be told what to do. As a business owner, however, everything falls on you. I have had to put the business before my health, my family, my social life, everything. Because when you are the boss, other people rely on you.
I think the biggest thing people must realize before choosing this life is that it’s not pretty. That’s the truth. When you fail, nobody will be there to help you get up right away, but if you keep going and you manage the good and the bad, you will feel very accomplished.
Growing up, what were your goals in life? Did you ever imagine you’d create something like what you created?
Julie: Honestly, I didn’t grow up thinking “I’m gonna be this” because I just knew that I would have a good job and life. In my mind, I didn’t know how, but I knew it would happen.
As a kid, I did like to do impersonations and sometimes thought I’d make a good comedian, but I didn’t go out of my way to take lessons, or act, or go into that industry. I still think I’d be a good comedian now!
I never thought I’d own a food business or that my recognition would come from it, but naturally it flowed. Everything put itself in my way to make something I enjoyed as a part of life become a professional venture. If I could have gotten my legal degree here, I would definitely still work as a lawyer — I loved that work.
What’s next for your business?
Julie: Hopefully, our salsa sales. It is my recipe based on my family’s cooking and it sells very well at the restaurant. I would like to bottle it for store shelves and see that business succeed.
Besides that, I love talking and meeting new people, so it would be a dream come true to have a TV show and write a book and continue to make people happy!
What advice would you give to the next generation of women and girls looking to make an impact?
Julie: Don’t give up. I have fallen a few times but you need to learn how to lift yourself up. Trust in your abilities and learn from those mistakes, but don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice and accept it.
Focus on your work and your goals, I often say, “The sun comes out for everyone,” so don’t even worry about competition or such.
Thanks so much to Julie and her daughter Bessie for sharing their story, and for bringing amazing Mexican cuisine right here into Boston!
If Julie’s story made you as inspired (and hungry!) as it made us, follow her on Instagram and Twitter @villamexicocafe.
Better yet, visit Villa Mexico Cafe at 121 Water Street, Boston to meet Julie King in person and grab yourself a delicious bite to eat!