NEW ORLEANS — Hugo Montero was once one of the people who thought New Orleans could use more authentic Mexican food.
"As a Mexican, if I go to Mexican place, if I don't see enchiladas en mole or chile relleno I will be a little bit disappointed. I'm not criticizing. You're talking about the number two dishes in Mexico," says Montero.
But he's not one for complaining, he's about solutions and his solution was Casa Borrega.
He opened the restaurant on Oretha Castle Haley back in 2013.
"My family is not from the restaurant field. I never worked in a restaurant in my life," explains Montero.
Montero grew up in Mexico City and wanted to share the delicious dishes his mother and grandmother made in the kitchen his entire life. He came to New Orleans to attend Tulane University in 1989.
For most of his life, Montero was an artist, but he wanted to do something he felt would contribute to New Orleans even more.
"I felt the need of the community to have something more substantial like a business …like a small business," says Montero.
He opened Casa Borrega and fell in love with a new art.
"I've been traveling all over the world...the service industry is an art. It's just like paining. It's just like music, and especially here in New Orleans," says Montero.
The Latino population exploded in New Orleans after Katrina and Montero wanted to create a space in New Orleans to celebrate Latin culture.
"I felt that many Latinos felt displaced and people from New Orleans felt the Latin connection wasn't right so I created Casa Borrega to show the dignified culture that we have."
Montero is proud of the space he's created, but the journey has had its challenges…
first he's still battling people's perception of Mexican food. People think Mexican food and think cheap.
And his Mexico City menu is different from the Tex-Mex that people are more familiar with.
Another major challenge is location. Many of the businesses meant to attract people to the area have closed. And now, Montero is dealing with the labor shortage in the hospitality industry. He's operating on shorter hours and a limited meal to cope with the labor shortage.
"It has been a job of blood sweat and tears and more blood but after the pandemic," says Montero.
Despite the challenges, Montero loves his culture and wants to continue using Casa Borrega to share and celebrate it.
"We represent one of those fun cultures margarita, fiesta..the dancing …the family….the color. It makes me very happy to run Borrega," says Montero.