Just like the many populations and ethnicities that contributed to Mexico’s vibrant culture, it is impossible to separate the many influences of Casa Borrega’s delicious cuisine. Their traditional Mexican food, tequila and mezcal bar, and Latin Jazz performances make it the ideal spot for a evening out.
Locally owned businesses infuse New Orleans neighborhoods with their unique character, and are a big part of why we want to live, work, eat and shop here. The Shopkeeper Stories series shares the vision and personality of New Orleans business owners.
Name Linda Stone and Hugo Montero
Business Casa Borrega
What ignited the spark in you to start your business?
Linda: For a long time, we wanted to start our own business. We lived in San Antonio, Texas for a few years post-Katrina, which was a great experience because we were able to spend a lot of time going to Mexico. We opened a little gallery in San Antonio in a building we renovated. We were the first to start bringing back that neighborhood, which is now the hottest arts district in San Antonio.
When we moved back to New Orleans, we wanted to share the Mexican culture. I’m from San Francisco, and Hugo is originally from Mexico City, but we have been in New Orleans for close to 30 years (minus those few years in San Antonio). Before Katrina, there was no Mexican restaurant that stood out in New Orleans. It seemed like people here didn’t know what authentic Mexican food was. We looked all over the city for a location and found this old house on O.C. Haley. We ended up investing quite a bit more in the project than we had projected, and it evolved into something bigger than our original idea of a coffee house or small taqueria. While we always wanted a multidisciplinary place, it got bigger than we ever expected.
The renovation used building parts from all over New Orleans, San Antonio and Mexico. I started the Green Project about 20 years ago, and that philosophy of reuse has been our mantra – very congruent with the Mexican culture.
Hugo: After Katrina, I was very disappointed with the perception and coverage of Latinos in New Orleans. At the time, I was pursuing my art full-time, and while I was making money to live, it was becoming just a job and not my passion anymore. I actually ended up loving places like Casa Borrega, where you can go in and just talk about many different topics and hear various perspectives. Instead of allowing my anger and disappointment to affect me, I decided to try to create something beautiful, something that embodied the Latin culture — so this is how Casa Borrega came from me.
What makes New Orleans businesses so special?
Hugo: I believe that whoever wants to open a business in New Orleans, really has to have the passion to do it and be willing to jump over the many hurdles of our state’s policy to open their business. Because we have a lack of places to work, we create our own places. New Orleanians are making their own jobs. It’s nice that there isn’t really a generic market in this city. We are a creative class of people, which is also transferable into the other industries and jobs. Therefore, our businesses are as colorful as our people.
If your restaurant was a cocktail, what would it be?
Both: We would be a Mezcal Margarita, of course. However, with the best, all-natural ingredients: mezcal, agave, limes, and cane sugar. It might be stereotypical, but it’s not your typical margarita.
Describe your business in a few words.
Hugo: Casa Borrega is a cool Latin place, but you can’t buy cool. We offer something that’s not on the market. Casa Borrega is an entity; it doesn’t belong to any one person anymore. It is the confluence of the charm and aura of all our workers, all of our guests, the festivals we throw, and this entire area really.
What are your current and upcoming goals for your business?
Linda: I just finished the Goldman Sachs Ten Thousand Small Businesses Program, so we’ve actually just completed an entire growth plan. In the process of building the restaurant with limited knowledge about the restaurant industry, we didn’t realize the constrictions of our kitchen’s small size. While we would like to expand our kitchen further, we don’t have the capacity in our restaurant to do so. Therefore, we are exploring the idea of renting one of the several commercial kitchens in our immediate area, so that we can branch out into catering.
In regards to our goals for what we offer, eventually, we would like to buy the lot next door and create a “Little Mexico” plaza. We want to offer the whole cultural experience – Cinco de Mayo, Día de la Independencia, and Día de los Muertos. We want to offer these big events, sell Mexican items, and expand our brand.
Will you share your secret lunch or dinner spot?
Linda: I love Mexican food, but my favorite is Vietnamese and Thai. What’s beautiful is that Vietnamese cuisine actually uses a lot of the same spices and herbs as Mexican dishes. Some of our favorites are: First, Taste of Thailand – they are so good! This little Thai lady is the one who cooks everything. Also, Dong Phoung, out in New Orleans East, has the best pho. Next, Tan Dinh on the west bank – they are a delicious casual bistro. Lastly, Nine Roses on the Westbank has the best spring rolls.
What advice would you give a budding business owner?
Linda: You won’t and don’t know everything, so be open to learning more, because you will.
What is one thing you’d like to see happen to this area?
Hugo & Linda: We like doing things with our neighbors and collaborating on events. At one point, the neutral ground in front of our place was going to be completely removed so it could be a festival ground. Unfortunately, the funds for that went to other projects. But we are still excited about the idea of the boulevard coming together for festivals and gatherings. We’d love to do more festivals of our own as well.
Meanwhile, we’d like to see the neighborhood stay mixed, in every sense – racially, socio-economically, religiously, etc. We want it to stay affordable as well — restored to its commercial glory, retaining its residential diversity.
1719 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.
Open Tues–Thurs 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Fri & Sat 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Closed Sun & Mon
While drainage system improvements and road construction make “shopping local” a bit more challenging in the short term, the critical improvements mean our city will be safer and stronger for generations to come. We hope you are inspired and continue to shop small and shop local—even if it takes a little extra time!
The Shopkeeper Stories are brought to you by StayLocal, the Greater New Orleans independent business alliance, in partnership with Uptown Messenger. Learn about their work or become a member at www.staylocal.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.