Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Farewell to Dali . . .

The subject of this week’s Blog is the departure of a popular and important aspect of our lifestyle here in Loreto – recently Jose Luis and Beatriz, the proprietors of Dali Delikatessan, announced that they would be closing their food store this month after eight years of providing specialty meats and other hard to find ingredients to the community.  During that time their store has grown from modest beginnings to become a “staple” for many of the ex-pats that have come to rely on them for the makings of many delicious meals that have added much to the enjoyment of our lifestyle here.

This past week I met with both of them at the Wine Bar here in Loreto Bay to talk about their experiences running the business, how they came to Loreto and what their plans are for the future.  Although it was obviously a sad occasion for me, as I have been a regular and enthusiastic customer of theirs over the years, it was also an opportunity to spend some time getting to know them better than the brief visits we often had when I dropped into their store to pick up the special things like Angus beef steaks and New Zealand lamb or cheddar cheese and my favorite coffee beans.

I remember meeting them soon after they opened their first small location downtown, not much more than the proverbial “hole in the wall”, located near the town square in Loreto.  In those days they had just begun the transition from a wholesale restaurant supplier of mainly frozen meats, and they were starting to sell retail to individuals.  In those days the store had a couple of shelving units stocked mainly with large commercial sized containers of condiments and other ingredients and in the back they had a large walk-in cooler/freezer where they stored their inventory of meats.

In those early days I remember the sense of excitement going to the original store and discovering the recent additions to their stock, an experience that would be hard to understand for anyone not familiar with the then current state of the other food stores in Loreto – which were limited at best and unappetizing at worst.  I had to quickly relearn the art of grocery shopping Loreto style, and came to refer to it as “hunting and gathering” as opposed to the selection and plenty that I was used to in the supermarkets where I had come from.

While one often headed to town with a shopping list of sorts, it was only an optimistic starting point, because unlike buying groceries in typical North American supermarkets, you wound up purchasing what you could find – not necessarily what you had started out looking for.  And while from the beginning Dali was far more reliable for their basic meats and other ingredients week in and week out, the excitement came from finding a new item that they were carrying which often opened new options for meals that had been unobtainable here before.

Those early days six or seven years ago also marked the beginning of another major contributor to the improvement of home prepared food here, the Sunday Market where vendors, many from out of town, set up stalls near the arroyo and sold their wares, including five or six that brought in fresh fruits and vegetables - a welcome improvement to the limited selection and poor quality that was then common in the established local stores.  But it was the reliable supply of excellent quality meats that quickly established Dali as an important source of the main meal ingredients for many of the growing numbers of ex-pats who were living, or passing through Loreto.

Although upwards of 70% of their business came from this loyal clientele, the remainder of the local Mexican customers were critically important to a viable year-round business because it was this smaller group of permanent residents that kept the business in operation when the majority of their winter season customers left for six or more months during the long hot summers.  Although Beatriz and Jose Luis expressed few regrets about their eight years of business in Loreto, I think they were disappointed that they did not get more support from a larger local Mexican clientele.  But they were resigned to the cultural reality that for the same reasons they were so popular with their ex-pat customers looking for a “taste of home”, the large majority of local residents were not familiar with many of the cuts of meat and other products they sold, coupled with the misperception that the foods they sold were more expensive.

Over the years Dali developed another strong following in a niche market, which will play an important role in the future evolution of their business, although that future unfortunately will not be here in Loreto.  When the yachting community discovered Dali and their vacuum packed, flash frozen meats they became enthusiastic customers and word travelled fast among the many live aboard cruisers that frequent the spectacular sailing grounds of the Sea of Cortez.  A layover in Loreto, or nearby Puerto Escondido, almost always meant a provisioning run to Dali, where the yachters would stock up, sometimes in very large quantities, on their quality meats and other hard to find ingredients like sushi rice and bulk herbs and spices. 

Beatriz gave an example of one such customer who, upon finding some hard to come by ingredient placed a phone call, while she was in the store, to a friend of hers who was located in Mexico City and apparently had been searching for the same thing – without success – in that city of 20 million people, and here it was in Loreto!  With that sort of spectacular example, it should not be hard to understand why Dali is going to be re-locating to La Paz, with a much larger sailing community as well as a population over ten times the size of Loreto.

They plan to open a new store, probably within walking distance of at least one of the two main marinas located there and build their business on a more sustainable basis catering to the much larger numbers of potential customers, albeit in a much more competitive market than here in Loreto.  While they have come slowly to this decision, and with real regrets for the many friends and customers they will leave behind, they also will miss the quiet beauty that they have come to love as their home in Loreto over the past eight years. 

But, the numbers don’t lie, and while their business has remained steady over the years that they have been operating in their much expanded second store, they are realistic enough to understand that a business that is not growing is in fact shrinking.  And so they have made the hard decision that they must make their move now, from relative strength, and not wait another year, or two (or more) for Loreto to grow and eventually allow them to continue to grow with it.

In writing this Blog over the past five seasons, I have always strived to put a positive perspective on the stories that I share with the readers every week, as my Mother used to say: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”!  So it is difficult for me to find a positive take-away from this week’s post on the departure of a much loved local business and the wonderful couple who I have seen grow and mature with the successful enterprise they have built over the same period of time that I have lived my adventure here.  But I am sure that there are new entrepreneurs waiting in the wings, who see the opportunity that Loreto promises in the future, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Jose Luis and Beatriz have provided those others with a stellar example of how to begin and succeed with a new enterprise here.

Learning to say Via con Dios to friends who learned how to run a successful business, while I was learning how to live successfully in a new and very different home here in Mexico – that may be one of the most important lessons of “Living Loreto”.