Where are you from?
I’m from Mexico City, born and raised. I left there when I was about 17 or 18.
Did you always wanted to own something like Miscelanea?
No. I was more of a corperate kind of guy. You hire me you pay me and I’m happy. That only worked for about 10 years and at a certain point I wanted to try something on my own. NYC inspires you, but it’s also evil. You can get lost in it, like a drug: they’re amazing but they can kill you. You have to know that you can’t do drugs without getting in some trouble. And that’s NYC. You can live here without getting into trouble, but you gotta know how much to take.
If you go to too many fashion week events and too many 300 dollar dinners with friends, then you wanna live in TribeCa and go to The Hampton's. After that you go broke, go live under the bridge, and then die [laughs].
So did you get the idea for your business in Mexico or here in NYC?
I’ve been in NYC for about 15 years now, and I always thought there was a void in the market.. Miscelanea means deli in spanish, but [we] encompass much more than just a deli. I like to call it a hybrid between a deli and a concept store. We sell food, but we also sell gifts and books, and we do catering. We have an online shop and even a magazine that we just came up with. I call it an umbrella for all things Mexican. So the main idea was to promote Mexico.
How long has it been here?
Since the summer of 2015. We're pretty new in the NYC scheme.
You’re kinda big! I read about Miscelanea in the New York Times.
That probably speaks to the fact that maybe we were right; there was a void. There’s a lot of Mexican restaurants and bars, but the press is not gonna talk about the next Mexican restaurant. It’s gonna talk about something new, and there was no Mexican store [like ours] until the day we opened. There’s some, but they have a bit of a Latin-American twist, merged with Dominican and Puerto Rican products. There was nothing 100 percent Mexican. We were at the right place at the right time.
Who are your customers? Mexicans? Americans? Tourists?
We have a variety. A lot of them have become regulars. We’re small, we’ve gotten press, but were not a powerhouse. You don’t come here from New Jersey or the Upper West Side, but a lot of the locals are regulars; people that live in New York, and that’s a big part of our business. The second part is divided by people that follow us online. Then there are also Mexicans that google “Mexican store” or “Mexican deli” or “queso oaxaca” and they find us and end up here. As far as I know, were the only store in Manhattan that sells queso oaxaca by the pound.
How did you get the idea or the concept of a high-end kinda deli?
I don’t refer it to it as high-end. Its both: low and high. I was trying to represent Mexico in a nicer way, and by nicer I don’t mean elitist or expensive. What I mean is in a more relevant and newer way. You don’t necessarily know its Mexican when you walk in. There’s no Mexican flag or a sombrero or a mariachi welcoming you at the door. It’s more about entering a beautiful place where we present Mexican products. We have products starting at 50 cents, but we also have more refined and elevated merchandise. I want to present Mexico to all incomes and all races. I have entrepreneurs that come in sometimes, and there’s also dishwashers that come in. They all shop together and buy the same things.
How did you curate the menu? How did you decide you were going to sell tortas (Mexican sandwiches) as your main dish?
The idea was to open a store with limited food. [At the beginning] we were thinking of pastries and coffee. But soon before we opened someone suggested we sell food, and I thought it was a good idea, since delis in NYC sell food. Someone suggested we sell tacos, but everyone sells tacos. Everybody does that. We’re not gonna be the best or only tacos, were just gonna be another fucking taco spot in NYC.
So I’m like, “We’re a deli, we should sell your regular cheese sandwich that you get in NYC but with a Mexican spin.” I personally love tortas, and there’s not too many out there. So we stuck to tortas and we do them well. A lot of people want complicated stuff like ceviche added to the menu, but I’m a big believer in doing things right. I’d rather have one amazing basic product that’s well-executed than try to produce a large but mediocre menu.
Where do you see this expanding to? Long term? Are you focused only on one store and making it perfect?
I would definitely like to grow. It’s a big component of anyone’s dream. You don’t go into business hoping to remain small, but at the same time I know people that have grown quickly and fell even quicker. It happens a lot in NYC, chains close out of nowhere because they grow a little too fast. I do want to grow, but I want to go slow. I’m focusing solely on this store for now. We don’t wait for customers to come, we go out and reach them. We do caterings,we deliver with every delivery service, and we go out there. We have an online store for e-commerce but everything is centralized [in this location]. I have people reach out to me for franchises, but at the moment we need to have everything controlled here and then hopefully expand.
Do you still find yourself being pretty hands on? Taking over the kitchen and such?
Of course. I’m still doing pretty much everything when people can’t. Sometimes the cook or chef is alone and is slammed during lunch hour. I jump in with the dishes or the cooking or whatever he needs. There’s always an hour where he’s drowning in orders. When he’s fine, I step out. I’m still very involved, yes.
Are you here everyday monitoring?
At the very beginning I was opening and closing, as well as working the counter and it was very exhausting. I was also doing the social media and all the finances, payroll… etc., and at the same time I had a baby. I was trying to do everything and on top I wasn’t sleeping at night, so I crashed.
I had to delegate and find guys that would run the show without me. That was the first step into the growth we’re talking about. We have a great manager and lovely staff, and when I’m not here everything is fine. I’m not as involved anymore, as I’m trying to focus on the bigger picture: what’s gonna create our buzz and revenue, and what people enjoy and want from us.
What was the most rewarding part? Giving america a taste of Mexican culture?
I think it’s very rewarding. The most rewarding is having people that work here being able to support themselves. We have full time employees and they make a living off of Miscelanea solely.. My business providing a couple of people a way of making a living feels amazing. And hopefully a living that they enjoy. The other thing I’m proud of is being able to present Mexico in a more modern way. I’m trying to present Mexico and promote it in general. I think people are starting to realize that Mexico is not what they thought; some are still stuck with their little ideas, particularly with what’s been happening with Trump. It’s fun to present something unique for them. Not necessarily take their money, but get them acquainted.
Do you have any competition? Has anyone tried to mimic what you’re doing?
I thought you said ‘compensation’. In case you wanted to know, I’m broke as fuck.[laughs]. Anyway, competition, yes and no. There are some delis that are Mexican out there, and I admire them. Some of what they do is insane. Zaragoza for example, is not too far from here. There's only one guy and they've been here for 20 years. There’s also another one in Williamsburg that’s really cool as well. I think they're half our competitors. They do well. When people google ‘Mexican stores’, we all show up, so I think they are our competition, but we’re also a bit different. I don’t really compare you to them to be honest. Some of the products and prices are definitely the same, Like our salsa “Herdez” we sell it for 3.95 and they do too. It's just a different location. But they don't sell all the fun and innovative stuff--like iced coffee with horchata.
Not to get too political but it must be a difficult time with Mexico and the media and Trump.
I guess it’s unsettling times. You hear about all this deportations; even people with green cards. It hasn't affected anyone around me, or me personally. I've been very lucky, but I'm also an optimist. I try to think about the future and the positiveness. Overtime things get better. We have a mural that says hope outside our store because of that. I think we’ll be okay, like Mexicans say.
I find it very unique that you’re one of the few businesses with only two or three employees.
Yeah that’s what I’m proud of. They are now here full-time, and from what I know they don’t have another job. They’re making a living off of Miscelanea, and they know each other very well. We employ anyone that’s suitable for the job, but speaking Spanish is imporant to me. I want people to feel like they're having a true Mexican experience. Like right now as we speak, I’m noticing my tortilla lady is getting free sandwiches, but I have no problem with it. She’s always on time, and she does our delicious chips. She comes when there’s a snowstorm or a heatwave. It’s part of the Mexican culture. We take care of one another.