2 Mérida restaurant owners in the Centro have community spirit

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Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado
Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado
Writer and educator Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado co-founded the TTT school and raised two children after moving to Mérida in 1976. The British Columbia native, author of "Magic Made in Mexico," blogs at Changes In Our Lives.
From left, restaurant owners Olga Moguel and Míriam Peraza Rivero have a seat at Miriam’s Manjar Blanco in Mérida. Olga owns Amaro a few blocks away. Photo: Yucatán Magazine

Míriam Peraza Rivero and Olga Moguel Pereyra are entrepreneurs who built their successful restaurants from the ground up. 

“You need to be creative and resilient to have a business of your own,” says Olga, who owns Restaurante Amaro. Míriam, the owner of Manjar Blanco, laughs and shakes her head. “You bet, and I learned all about that at a young age.” 

Míriam had just turned 4 when she moved from provincial Valladolid to live in Mérida with her grandmother, an acclaimed cook. “When I pulled on her apron strings, she’d hoist me up to where I could smell and taste the fragrant spices she used in her recipes.” 

Celebrity Chef Rick Bayless featured Manjar Blanco on his popular PBS series several years ago. Photo: Courtesy

The young girl asked every question she could think of and eventually gained encyclopedic knowledge about the ingredients found in regional dishes and the medicinal properties of local plants. 

Decades later, two of her sons studied culinary arts. And once they graduated, Míriam and the boys established their restaurant across from Mérida’s Santa Ana market. As a tribute to the woman who nurtured Míriam’s passion, they called their new enterprise “Manjar Blanco,” the name of her grandmother’s signature dessert.     

Olga Moguel Pereyra is a bi-national citizen of Mexico and Argentina, and she did not spend all of her formative years in Mérida. She traveled back and forth and during one of her stays in Yucatán, she wondered why there weren’t more clubs with live music downtown. A friend suggested that she start her own place. The idea buzzed around in her brain until she finally did so in 1993. “Like my colleague, Míriam, I wanted to name my restaurant for someone I admired, Dr. Jesús Amaro Gamboa. He was rector of the UADY in 1936, where he championed students’ rights. Dr. Amaro was a master of diverse pursuits, such as biology, literature, and philosophy. It was an honor to know him.” 

Restaurante Amaro has a striking courtyard at its core. Photo: Courtesy

Nowadays, Amaro ranks as a favorite spot to enjoy a few drinks or a meal al fresco and listen to trova — the music genre that has flourished in Yucatán since the 1890s. 

Because both women work right in the heart of the city, they say they have a true perspective on all its potential and its challenges.

“Understandably, many people fall in love with Mérida and look for a way to live here. A lot of them seem to believe that starting their own business in such a magical place must be relatively easy,” says Míriam, “but overcrowding and excessive noise in the downtown core are issues that must be resolved before more growth is viable.”

On the other hand, they feel there is great potential for entrepreneurs in the state’s smaller cities. Stimulating investment in these places would promote more employment opportunities, and more services would be available to the citizens. For the investor, creating a business in a new place would provide a chance to have both a satisfying lifestyle and work environment.

“Of course, in a different locale or in a new job, success is dependent on many variables. But you need to keep chopping onions,” says Míriam. Olga looks puzzled by the reference, so Míriam explains, “When you chop a lot of onions, they make you cry. But you keep on chopping because you know they’ll wake up the flavor of the dish you’re making. And the same is true when you need to resolve an issue that prevents you from creating the life you want. You need to stay consistent, work like crazy, and keep on chopping onions!”

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