In fusing two cultures, El Padrino's Uzoamaka Umeh created the first-ever Naija-Mexican fusion restaurant
Uzoamaka Umeh started the first-ever Naija-Mexican fusion restaurant, El-Padrino, famous for its Taco Tuesdays. She talks to Document Women about working as a restauranteur, her favourite foods to make, and the future of El Padrino.
Could you tell us about yourself?
Hola! My name is Uzoamaka Umeh; I am the Founder of El Padrino Restaurant, the world's first Naija-Mex restaurant. I was born in Lagos but raised in Los Angeles. I have over 14 years of restaurant experience, specifically in the fast-casual sector. I am passionate about community, culture, and cuisine.
Did you start experimenting with Nigerian food or Mexican food?
I definitely started with Nigerian food as a teenager; II spent most of my time cooking/practising Nigerian meals at home. Also, baking a lot!
Tell us about your restaurant.
El Padrino Restaurant (EP) is the world’s first Naija-Mexican fast-casual restaurant. We aim to build a global franchise that makes excellent Mexican food products using only high-quality Nigerian produce and spices.
Did you have any formal training before you opened the restaurant?
I did not; I am self-taught. However, I learned a lot at Restaurants like Cafe Rio, Pieology, and Chick-Fil-A.
Was it difficult marketing Mexican and Naija-Mex fusion food to Nigerians? Seeing as we're a people who are very traditional with our food.
I think for anyone trying to educate people on a new cuisine, you have to understand that it is a marathon, not a sprint. And my team and I understand that and practice for it every day. When we came to Lagos, there were fewer than three places that served tacos passively. However, since we have been pushing the Mexican ministry here in Lagos, we have noticed that more restaurants are adding tacos to their menu - about 15 of them now. In fact, since our infamous El Padrino Taco Tuesday pop-up, more restaurants currently host Taco Tuesday. So difficult as it may be, we focus on our progress.
What are your best dishes to make?
I make a mean Tres Leches cake; it's a cake soaked in three types of milk.
What advice would you give to anyone trying to enter the restaurant business?
Don't enter this field looking to make quick money. You must be very passionate about the industry; that passion will hold you up when all else is trying to pull you down.
When you started the Naija-Mex restaurant, were there challenges mixing and fusing the dishes?
No challenges, just learning curves. For example, finding Nigerian peppers to substitute for Mexican peppers. That wasn't a challenge; it was more of a moment to learn about Nigerian peppers. So the curves continue to be there; like everything in life; you learn, unlearn, and then relearn.
What's next for El Padrino?
Right now El Padrino is focused on building a successful brick-and-mortar. We are only 7 months old in that arena, so let us hone that space first then we can talk about what's next.