Maynard family grows restaurant business
Former cashier, chef now have three locations
El Huipil Cocina Mexicana holds a special place in the hearts of restaurant owners Alma and Alonso Moreno. For one, it’s a direct reflection of their beloved home country of Mexico, seen in their authentic dishes and drinks. And secondly, a huipil — a traditional and colorful garment worn by indigenous women in Central Mexico and throughout Central America — is what Alonso gifted Alma during their courtship before they married.
“The first thing he gave me when we were dating was a huipil,” said Alma, who is originally from Sonora, Mexico, where huipiles aren’t commonly worn.
Alonso comes from the sovereign state of Oaxaca in Mexico, known for its strong connection to its indigenous peoples and cultures.
Many of the menu items featured at El Huipil are traditional dishes from Oaxaca. “His mole recipe for example. It takes him three days, but it comes out delicious,” she said, referring to a traditional Mexican sauce made with spices and chocolate.
Standout traditional dishes featured at El Huipil include the pozole soup, ceviche, carne asada, chiles rellenos, tamales and various other dishes featuring seafood, beef, pork or just vegetables.
Before opening El Huipil’s first location in Maynard, Massachusetts in 2010, Moreno was a full-time nanny during the week and a cashier at a casual Mexican restaurant during the weekends. Her husband worked as a chef at the same restaurant.
“We started to build the restaurant in the same way, with the same kind of idea of fast casual food, and quick dishes like burritos and quesadillas,” she said. But, the couple found that customers wanted more.
“People wanted us to make it more of a real dining place, and after a year, we did,” she said. This transition involved building out the space, previously used by a bakery, which had excess kitchen equipment and space when they took it over.
“We started with only three tables and no liquor license,” said Moreno. Now, El Huipil seats up to 55 people, the patio seats 50 and there is a full bar serving freshly made margaritas.
The restaurant in Maynard employs three cooks and 12 waitstaff. Their second location, in Acton, employs around the same number of workers. The waitresses often wear huipiles as they tend to diners.
The biggest challenge in opening their first restaurant was finding capital, said Moreno. But with loan financing, including from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the family was able to get the business up and running.
Forming relationships with suppliers was also helpful. “My husband has been in the restaurant business for a long time and he knows a lot of our suppliers,” said Moreno. Those suppliers were flexible with payment times in the beginning, she explained.
At first, the first restaurant was bursting with customers. “We couldn’t feed everybody,” said Moreno. Many guests were arriving from nearby towns, like Acton. This propelled the Morenos to look into a second location to accommodate the demand.
“Both locations are busy but manageable,” said Moreno. “It’s working out.”
2019 is looking to be a successful and busy year for the El Huipil team; the restaurant was named Minority Owned Business of the Year by the SBA. “I was surprised, but we’re happy,” said Moreno about their new accolade.
The Morenos are now gearing up for their third restaurant venture, slated to open this summer: Azucar tapas restaurant, which will be neighbor to El Huipil in Maynard.
“We need something different in this town,” said Moreno. “So we decided to do tapas.”
It looks as if Maynard-area residents can look forward to a dynamic new weekend destination. In addition to Spanish-style small plates at the new restaurant, the Morenos plan to offer something else their customers have been asking for — salsa lessons.