Twelve years ago, carrying only MXN$ 20,000 and his suitcase, Mario Ohori Martínez traveled from Mexico to Japan with the objective of staying in the Asian country for one year to get to know it. His trip, however, would turn into an opportunity to move there and open a restaurant of Mexican food with his best friend, Roberto.
“I was an ordinary Mexican kid; I played football with my friends, my mom sold tortas in the airport; I didn’t care at all about Japan,” says Mario from the inside of his restaurant, a place with colorful walls and a style that already makes all clients feel as though they were in Mexico.
The desire of Mario to travel to Japan (country of origin of his father) came from his mother, who insisted he should go to Tokyo and learn the language so he could find a job that could help him improve his quality of life.
And so, Mario got two jobs to save money and pay for his travel expenses and in 2006, at 21, he was able to finally do so.
“I told my mom: ‘Alright, I’ll be gone for a year, but whether I learn or not [the language], I’ll return to Mexico,’… and I’ve stayed 12 years here,” Mario says with a smile.
“When my dad said goodbye to me at the airport he told me he knew I would come back because I would be no good with the language or in getting a job, so that became my motivation to keep going despite the hardships,” claims this young entrepreneur.
Mario’s father came from Japan to Mexico to work as a chef when he was 28 and liked the country so much he decided to stay. Mario confesses he has little contact with his father but that now that he is in his dad’s native land he understands him better.
When he arrived in Japan, Mario remembers he had to sleep in parks because he couldn’t find a job but when he finally did, he worked as a janitor, then as a cook, then a waiter, and he finally became the manager at a Mexican restaurant called “La Cocina de Gabriela” (“Gabriela’s Kitchen”) where he worked with Roberto Rosas Simón, a native of Guerrero, and with whom he established a good relationship until the place closed.
When the owner of the restaurant they worked for sold the property, 15 people lost their jobs. Mario and Roberto began to think then about opening their own restaurant. Their former boss gave them some of the gear and equipment of his old restaurant for free and after acquiring several loans, Mario and Roberto opened their own restaurant, “Mi Familia” (“My Family”).
“We’ve had good and bad times, we’ve fought, we’ve hated each other, we’ve cried, but we’ve always been together. We are more than friends or coworkers, we’re family, my family,” says Mario next to Roberto.
“As a Mexican, you know what good [Mexican] food is; you can recognize good tacos but the Mexican food they sell everywhere is not Mexican food, like wraps, nachos, enchiladas with flour tortillas, chili, and that’s not Mexican food.”
This was another drive for them to prepare traditional Mexican food, like mole, tacos and enchiladas, sauces, and chorizo, with ingredients imported from Mexico through companies like Kahn Corporation and World Trading, which specialize in Latin America produce and products.
Five months after they opened, Mi Familia has become a benchmark on Mexican food in Tokyo.