Sunday, December 2, 2012

El Cardon - Mexican Cantina in Loreto Bay

One of the signs of the evolution of Loreto Bay as more than just a collection of homes, has been the addition of businesses in the commercial spaces along the Paseo that bisects our community.  This Fall marked the opening of another of these new enterprises, El Cardon (The Cactus) a Cantina style restaurant serving traditional Mexican foods.

El Cardon specializes in a lunch menu of light meals including tacos, burritos, tostados, cheviche and salads, with a beverage selection that includes micro-brewery drafts as well as bottled beers, margaritas and several non-alcoholic choices.  They are also open early evenings several times a week with a special plate such as Pescado Veracruz, Chiles Rellenos, Enchilada Verdes, or Chicken or Pork Mole in addition to the regular menu.

This new dining option in Loreto Bay has proved to be a popular addition to the growing number of food venues here in Loreto Bay; Hoyo 19 (the Golf Clubhouse restaurant), Macciatos (a coffee shop/bakery/pizzeria), El Corazon (barrista coffee/bakery serving breakfasts and lunches) and The Wine Bar (with a tapas style menu) as well as the restaurants at the INN, or Loreto Spa and Golf Resort. Gone are the days when going out for a meal here in Loreto Bay necessarily meant a 30 km round trip into town, we now have a growing selection of interesting and tasty options within an easy stroll from homes and this has added a significant improvement in lifestyle for the growing numbers of Residents.

The Owners of El Cardon are Kieran and Norma, familiar to many Loretanos as the proprietors of “1697”, one of the more popular restaurants in the town of Loreto, located overlooking the historic (and recently renovated) town square.  One afternoon this week I sat down with Kieran on the patio of El Cardon to talk about the new restaurant and the fascinating story of how this couple came to make a place for themselves here in Loreto.

Unlikely as it may sound, the story begins in Hong Kong about 10 years ago where Norma, who was born in Mexico, was working for a Bank developing export markets for Mexico and Kieran was an IT specialist with an American firm, recently transferred from Australia and halfway around the world from his birthplace in Ireland.  Sharing a love of food and travel their relationship grew as they vacationed together in exotic places and talked often of a dream of leaving the corporate world to open a restaurant somewhere they could enjoy their love of the sea and sailing.

In the summer of 2004 on their Honeymoon visiting Mexico, they checked out several possible locations on the Mainland, but were not sure they had found the right spot for their “dream business”.  They were considering the Baja, but both knew that Los Cabos was too big and developed, and then Norma suggested a little place she had heard about – Loreto.  After spending a few days here on that trip, they went back to Hong Kong and their jobs, before returning again at New Years in ’05, when they saw the numbers of Visitors and Residents here during “high season” and confirmed the potential of this location for their planned restaurant.      

Having found the location, things started to happen quickly, they resigned from their jobs and Kieran went to Ireland for an intensive 3 month Cooking School and then he returned to Mexico, reuniting with Norma who was awaiting the birth of their son Patricio with her family in her home town on the Mainland.  For the next 9 months Kieran worked with one of Norma’s relatives who owned a restaurant, getting practical experience in running the business, during which time they purchased the property in Loreto that would become “1697”, their restaurant named after the year that the Jesuit Mission was founded here.

In January ’06 with their now 3 month old son and all their worldly possessions, they drove across Mainland Mexico, crossed on the La Paz ferry to arrive in Loreto and begin the new chapter of their lives. After gutting and rebuilding the original house they had purchased for their restaurant, they converted it into an interior dining room and bar with a small outside patio area and opened for business in June of that year.

A few years later, when the town square that the restaurant overlooked underwent a major renovation they were able to expand their outdoor patio area and convert some of the interior space into two simple guest bedrooms rounding out their now successful restaurant business with the additional appeal of this “boutique” accommodation in this picturesque location.

The opening and evolution of their business in Loreto coincided with the timing of the Loreto Bay Community and they developed a strong clientele from the increasing numbers of Homeowners spending time here.  As they observed the ups and downs of the recent history of the development they sensed the growing community spirit here and saw the beginnings of the commercial services become established.

At the end of last season, on one of their occasional visits here, over a coffee at El Corazon Norma had the inspiration for a simple Mexican Cantina style restaurant that could be operated with a minimal kitchen, supplied with partially prepared ingredients from their main kitchen in town.  With the assistance of Nellie, who is the Broker for the rental of commercial space in the development, they found the perfect location with room for a bar and food prep area and a few tables indoors, and a sidewalk patio with more seating outside.

Over the past summer, they created a vibrant décor in the small interior and finished the renovations in time for a soft opening as the Residents began to return this past Fall.  As the population has grown over the past few months, they have developed a steady lunchtime business and their patio often attracts afternoon customers who can enjoy a cool drink under the patio umbrellas and watch the world (or at least this small part of it) pass by on the Paseo.

Currently El Cardon is open for early evening dining 3 days a week with a special featured dish in addition to the regular menu selections, and they are considering adding a fourth evening, when the traffic justifies it.  However, Kieran feels confident that their gamble on the future of Loreto Bay has been more than successful so far, and he and Norma are excited about their potential for the future as a part of our Community.    

 Seeing friends and neighbors from the nearby town of Loreto contributing their talents and energy, adding to the amenities and investing in the future of Loreto Bay, is a strong and positive indication of the growth and synergy that will insure the future of our beautiful home here in the Baja.  Learning another fascinating origin story from the newest addition to our Community is another part of the picture that is “Living Loreto”!