Sonia and Carlos Mendoza have been operating Mendoza’s Mexican Mercado on Aurora in Seattle’s Green Lake neighborhood since 2011. Today, Mendoza’s is a favorite local destination known for its delicious traditional Mexican food and menu that changes daily. Mendoza’s also offers authentic Mexican drinks, snacks, candy, spices, and much more.
Owner and chef Sonia grew up in Mexico watching her Abuelita (grandmother) take care of a market just like Mendoza’s. Her mother carried on the tradition and ran a market in Mexico throughout Sonia’s youth. Sonia drew inspiration from her elders and applied what she knew to Mendoza’s. Carlos says it’s part of what inspires them as they hope “to bring a little slice of Mexico to the taste buds of Seattle.”
Owning a small business hasn’t been easy, and Mendoza’s has “evolved tremendously,” says Carlos. “We started with a heat lamp and a tray of carnitas.” During these early stages, Sonia and Carlos lived an hour away from the business They didn’t even make the food themselves at this point. They had to travel over an hour away to pick the food up from a distributor and bring it back to the restaurant.
“We started cooking on a camping stove and offering it to the customers,” explains Sonia.
They cooked like this for years at the beginning of their journey, and because of the delicious food, they began to gain a following.
One of their loyal customers saw how Sonia was cooking and wanted to help, so he brought her a home stove. Carlos explains, “Getting a home stove was pretty awesome, because we started Mendoza’s cooking on a camp stove that needs propane.” The home stove was a huge boost for the two, and as clientele grew, word began to spread about Sonia’s cooking.
The Mendoza’s Experience
For many who regularly eat at Mendoza’s, it’s more than just a dining experience. It’s something close to their hearts. Carlos mentions that, “most people see us on social media and think that we are just a restaurant. We are more than a restaurant. We offer the customer a small opportunity to have authentic homemade food.”
Mendoza’s tries to buy locally, but they also try to import spices and other essentials from Mexico. These authentic ingredients are a big reason why these meals taste so familiar to many when they come in and try Sonia’s cooking.
Carlos explains, “At the same time while they’re tasting Sonia’s food, they travel in their minds to their grandma’s kitchen back home.”
This happens with many of the customers who according to Sonia, “have cried and said, ‘I just thought of when I was a kid and my grandma used to feed me.’”
When asked what’s one thing that customers may not know about your business, Carlos immediately laughs. “The hours.”
They used to be open 7 days a week and they would open at 8 AM and close at 9 PM. Eventually, after 6 years, the nonstop schedule got to be too much.
Now they just work 6 days a week although they arrive at 6:30 AM so that the food is ready by 10:30 AM.
Commitment is a huge part of Sonia and Carlos’s work ethic, but ultimately, they just love doing it for the people. Sonia mentions how she, “loves representing the colorful culture that we have. Putting love into every meal that I cook.” Sonya loves making customers smile once they taste it. She also loves being able to say, “I’m the owner!”
Recently Mendoza’s was recently part of an ongoing Intentionalist collaboration with Seattle Sounders FC, and shared their food with eager fans at the Pacific Northwest Marketplace at Lumen Field.
“That was a totally different experience that we had never had.” Before they had sold outside of the stadium with Sonia’s brother, but this was a brand new opportunity. “It was awesome,” Carlos says.
The following week, they were invited to return to sell their food at two upcoming Seattle Seahawks games on October 16th and December 11th.
These collaborations are important for Mendoza’s because as Carlos puts it, “it puts us on the map” to a whole new group of people. Everything is from word of mouth and social media so these collaborations are huge.”
When asked about Mendoza’s future Carlos replies, “Now that everything is picking up? Just get back on track and bring back the enjoyment of everything. Staying in the neighborhood and bringing the neighbors quality everything. And making people smile, and an occasional tear.”